Tuesday, January 25, 2022

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Center Stage

A do-over done Latin-style


“Evita,” Des Moines Performing Arts. Des Moines Civic Center, Aug. 21-23. Shows Thursday-Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

“Evita,” Des Moines Performing Arts. Des Moines Civic Center, Aug. 21-23. Shows Thursday-Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Broadway loves a do-over. The Tony awards include “Best Revival,” and every season sees former hits rejiggered. “South Pacific” may have been a smash in 1949, but there’s a streamlined version coming soon to the Playhouse. At the Civic Center this weekend, theatergoers can catch what sounds like “Evita” with an edge.

“This one has numbers that kick you in the face right from the start,” claimed Sean MacLaughlin.

MacLaughlin plays Juan Peron, the leader of Argentina from the 1950s into the ’70s and — more to the point — the husband of the title character. Eva Peron was something of a kick in the face herself. The woman shot up from poverty, never a prostitute but always a scuffler, working the angles on behalf of her husband and becoming, in the process, a Latin American icon. Savvy about image, manipulating film and radio, she makes you think of Madonna. And guess who played Evita in the ’96 movie?

That movie featured one new song, “You Must Love Me,” by the same hitmakers who wrote the ’78 original, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. An Oscar-winner, “You Must” also turns up in the new show, but that’s a minor adjustment. More than that, everything’s been given fresh Hispanic texture.


“We’ve really brought out the Argentine reality,” said MacLaughlin.

The revival strives for a documentary feel. Whether the scene is a city nightclub or a pampas village, this version makes use of new research, so nothing comes across as a gringo fantasy about South of the Border.

MacLaughlin asserts that while “Evita” still has “a gorgeous production,” it’s “no longer just gorgeous.”

For instance the character “Che,” something like the Greek chorus, no longer resembles the guerilla Che Guevara. In Argentina, “Che” means roughly “buddy,” and while Ernesto (actual name) Guevara was from Buenos Aires, he had nothing to do with the Perons. The new “Evita” shaves off his beard and puts him in street clothes.

“I didn’t focus on the final product, the successful politician, so much as on how he got that way,” he said. So MacLaughlin worked for authenticity of character. He praises their Evita, Caroline Bowman, as “this incredible force onstage” but makes clear that she too creates “a personal drama.” Together, as a couple, “they’re learning as they go along, like anyone else.”

Still, this is a musical, and MacLaughlin keeps coming back to the music. “Everything’s grounded in a big Latin beat,” he says.

The revival doesn’t just present a drama anyone can relate to but moves to rhythms that now, unlike when Webber and Rice began, are enjoyed all over the world.

“We have two percussion setups onstage at all times,” MacLaughlin revealed. “That’s my favorite: all the great drumming. This one is rooted in tango.”

Overheard in the Lobby: For the next couple of weeks, I’ll be out of the country. Look for this column to return after Labor Day. CV

John Domini is Cityview’s “Play Mate” theater critic who pens our weekly Center Stage column. He is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.

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