REVIEWS: ‘Evita,’ ‘Spunk’

caroline bowman as eva peron with CheFor many, Evita was the show that won over musical theater fans to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s side before he became the bombastic hit-monster of Cats and Sunset Boulevard. In some ways, it’s the most unlikely of musical subjects: The machiavellian machinations of the former first lady of Argentina, Eva Peron, who was long-dead by the time the show opened. And yet, it’s a compelling piece of operatic theater, a kind of political tragedy where Lady Macbeth never has second thoughts.

The original production made stars out of Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin (Madonna made the movie version 17 years later). The version now at Fair Park Music Hall, courtesy of Dallas Summer Musicals, doesn’t reach those legendary heights, but it’s a reminder of how solidly entertaining and innovative Evita has always been.

It’s the day Eva (Caroline Bowman) has died, and a disgruntled Che Guevara (Josh Young) seems alone in his lack of sentiment. Was she a devil or a saint? Madonna or whore? Is it possible to be all of these things? Through flashbacks, Che narrates her calculated rise from rural nobody to radio star to wife of military hero and eventual president Juan Peron (Sean MacLaughlin).

This is the national tour of the recent Broadway revival that starred Ricky Martin. Ricky doesn’t she-bang in this one, but with Tony Award nominee Josh Young in the role of Che, it doesn’t matter much — he has a powerful tenor and a fierce indignation (especially evident in the fantasy number “Waltz for Eva and Che”).

He’s not the only strong performance, though — indeed, of the many productions I’ve seen of Evita this is the first where all five man roles are equally well played. Bowman’s transformation from girl-from-the-sticks to trashy actress to steely political wife to, eventually, a frail and cancer-ridden ghost, is endlessly convincing. MacLaughlin is a strong, sexy Peron, and even Christopher Johnstone, as the cheezy singer Magaldi and Krystine Alabado as Peron’s former mistress do excellent, detailed work. Michael Grandage’s direction keeps the show moving effortlessly, and despite a few missed opportunities for irony and character development, it’s a stellar show, not revived often enough.

KA2_8128Up at the Addison Theatre Centre, WaterTower Theatre has its own stellar musical on the boards. Based on three short stories by Zora Neale Hurston, Spunk is a jaunty little 90-minute show that has the smoky appeal of a Lenox Avenue speakeasy in the 1930s.

Liz Mikel is this show’s Che, a kind of narrator who escort us through three unrelated scenes by one of the few female voices to emerge from the Harlem Renaissance. The stories are largely unrelated both in tale and tone, but Hurston’s clear, precise style bursts through each of them. In one, a woman (Tiffany D. Hobbs) in the rural south endures the abuses of her drunken husband … until an opportunity presents itself that may free her. In another, zoot-suited dandies throw more shade than a drag queen at noon as they try to woo a liberated woman in post-War NYC. In the third, a loving family man deals with the anguish caused when his wife cheats on him in a weird twist on The Gift of the Magi.

This is toe-tapping theater, full of energy and dark beauty, magnificently lighted by Jason C. Foster (who imbues the Art Deco, Gatsby-inspired set with fire and mood) and performed by a gifted cast. Just try not to have a good time.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Lady Go-Go

Guitar chick Jane Wiedlin and the rest of the Go-Go’s are back — although they claim they were never really gone

SHE’S GOT THE BEAT | Go-Go’s guitarist Jane Wiedlin stays away from gender labels, but still fights for gay rights.

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

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THE GO-GO’S
With Girl in a Coma. House of Blues, 2200 N. Lamar St. Aug. 26 at 9 p.m. $40–$75.
HouseOfBlues.com.

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Nothing makes you feel older than an album from your youth celebrating a milestone anniversary. Nothing! Those defining tunes as you came of age may be timeless, but it’s a reminder that you aren’t.

As the seminal ‘80s band the Go-Go’s celebrates three decades since Beauty and the Beat, time seems to have hardly touched guitarist Jane Wiedlin. With her little girl voice and sassy wit, Wiedlin has kept the same spunk she had when the iconic girl group burst onto the scene.

“In some ways it feels like three years ago and other ways, like 300 years ago,” she says.

Wiedlin wants to make one thing clear: The concert she and her bandmates will give this weekend is not part of a reunion tour — there’s nothing to reunite. Rather, the Go-Go’s just aren’t “a very active band” who have taken “a big chunk of time off.”

Whether or not she’s kidding, the tour has injected the band with a vigor that they’ll put on display Friday at the House of Blues. Dallas thought they might get a nostalgic taste of the band when they were set to perform last year. But Wiedlin unintentionally derailed that.

“It was the day after my birthday and a few of us decided to take a midnight hike up to the top of this hill,” she explains. “We wanted to have this epic light saber battle. But as we walked home, I literally fell right off a cliff. I heard my knees explode; I was rolling through poison oak! I went and found the cliff and I had fallen about 15 feet.”

Such an anecdote reveals several things about Wiedlin: She’s an admitted Star Wars geek, and she’s the adventurous type. She has a limp now, but otherwise, she’s back in the game. The time off gave her some time for introspection — about touring in the early days, the fun the ladies had on the road and the experience of putting those shows together. Even with the ups-and-downs of the band, she thought everyone was having the best time possible — why not again?

“You know, I get sucked into the minutiae of being onstage, but it’s extraordinary,” she says with little gasps. “Our intention is to make this tour the most fun we’ve had in decades, which will make it fun for other people.”

Which seems like a given with such musical faves like “We Got the Beat,” “Vacation” and “Head Over Heels.”  But is new music in sight for the band that never really broke up? Wiedlin and the gang aren’t ruling it out.

“It looks possible to record together, even though we don’t have to have a major label,” she says. “That used to be such a big deal to make music, but now with the web, it’s very DIY. Like getting back to those  ‘70s punk rock days. Charlotte [Caffey] and Kathy [Valentine] just wrote a new song for the band.”

Wiedlin gives the impression that she can’t sit still, whether she’s a star in the comic book Lady Robotica, partaking in her admission that she’s a BDSM perv or acting in indie films, Wiedlin’s voice suggests she may never stop working — whatever the work may be.

“I’m working all the time. I just wrote and directed my first sci-fi movie, The Pyrex Glitch,” she says. “That’s on the film fest circuit. Hopefully people will find it as funny as I do. But we’re all really busy. Belinda [Carlisle] has her jewelry and textile company and Gina [Schock] is been writing songs for Miley Cyrus. Everybody is still so active even though we’re old.”

Wiedlin has discussed her bisexuality, although she prefers to stay away from labels. In an interview with AfterEllen.com, she told the site she’s had sex with both sexes, but that “bisexuality is such a loaded term.” But she loves her gays and as Prop 8 played out in California, she experienced both the joy of gaining equality and the disappointment of marriage privileges being taken away.

“For a few months in the summer of 2008, we got equal rights,” she says. “I wanted to be part of that celebration! But then Prop 8 happened and I’ve been fighting it ever since. I became an ordained minister to marry same-sex couples. I’ll go anywhere to do that so people can be together as they should be. Oh, and as a disclaimer, I’m completely non-religious.”

Her focus is now on the tour and even with her bum knees, she laughs off any obstacle that would keep her from enjoying giving a good show. And while the audience will hear Go-Go’s hits and perhaps even Carlisle’s, don’t be so sure on hearing Wiedlin’s one-hit wonder song “Rush Hour.” The pop confection made a top 10 splash back in 1988. In fact, she’s almost betting on it.

“You know, that song has been a thorn in my side,” she chuckles. “It is so hard to play live because it has like millions of synths in it. I’ve never been able to crack it to make it sound good, but I’d love to hear Belinda sing it.”

We’d go for that.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens