Evita at Oriental Theatre: Theater review

This new touring production, based on the 2012 Broadway revival, is much like its subject: glamorous and entertaining enough to distract from its lack of substance.

 (Photograph: Richard Termine)
Photograph: Richard TermineCaroline Bowman and Josh Young in the 2013 national tour of Evita
 (Photograph: Richard Termine)
Photograph: Richard TermineJosh Young in the 2013 national tour of Evita
 (Photograph: Richard Termine)
Photograph: Richard TermineSean MacLaughlin in the 2013 national tour of Evita
 (Photograph: Richard Termine)
Photograph: Richard TermineSean MacLaughlin and Caroline Bowman in the 2013 national tour of Evita
 (Photograph: Richard Termine)
Photograph: Richard Termine2013 national tour of Evita
 (Photograph: Richard Termine)
Photograph: Richard TermineChristopher Johnstone in the 2013 national tour of Evita
 (Photograph: Richard Termine)
Photograph: Richard TermineKrystina Alabado in the 2013 national tour of Evita
 (Photograph: Richard Termine)
Photograph: Richard TermineCaroline Bowman in the 2013 national tour of Evita

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's much-loved late–’70s musical treatment of the brief, brightly burning life of Eva Perón, the first lady of Argentina from 1946 until her death in 1952 at the age of 33, was often described in its initial incarnations—first as a concept album, followed by productions in the West End and on Broadway—as a rather Brechtian examination of the allure and acquisition of fame. This new touring production based on director Michael Grandage's stagings in London in 2006 and on Broadway in 2012, while musically solid and visually often stunning, feels less like a knowing dissection of power than a Lifetime Intimate Portrait.

For one thing, trading a representational approach for something closer to psychological realism makes a curious character of populist narrator Che (charmingly portrayed and powerfully sung by Josh Young, a recent Tony nominee for another Rice–Lloyd Webber collaboration, Jesus Christ Superstar). Stripped of original director Hal Prince's conception of him as a version of Che Guevara, this Che becomes an affable cipher, filling us in on Eva's rise from rural poverty to Buenos Aires social climber to romancing future dictator Juan Perón from no particular point of view.

As Eva, Caroline Bowman meets the punishing demands of Lloyd Webber's score admirably, but rarely seems to reach out to connect with us, as she must if we're to get the "star quality" that endeared her to the Argentinian poor from which she rose. (Desi Oakley serves as an alternate Eva at some performances.) Rob Ashford's Tony-nominated choreography, which finds umpteen variations on the tango, is impressively executed, and the imposing sets and glittering costumes (both by Christopher Oram) contribute to an attractive, enjoyable package, with ear-pleasing renditions of the show's well-known numbers ("Don't Cry for Me Argentina," "Another Suitcase in Another Hall," "Rainbow High"). Yet Grandage's production, like Eva the character, falsely equates glamour with power. It's an attractive diversion, but it's not changing anybody's lives.