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Capsule Stage Reviews: May 15, 2014

Evita There are always reasons to revisit Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's operatic treatment of the life of Eva Perón, now brightly burning under Theatre Under the Stars' presentation of this Broadway revival from 2012. You might want to hear "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" again, or see the iconic image of Ms. Perón, arrayed in sparkly Dior, standing with arms outstretched on the presidential balcony as she delivers the musical's signature number. Maybe you want to see what the dancers can do during the hot "Buenos Aires" samba. Perhaps you want to revisit the haunting ballad "Another Suitcase in Another Town," where you might find the next Broadway star-to-be singing the ingenue role, bumped out of Perón's bed by the rising, opportunistic Evita. Maybe you want to see if the spectacle of "A New Argentina" with its chorus of the "descamisados," the shirtless ones, Argentina's lower classes, can match the banner-waving torch parade so memorable from the Harold Prince original. Some of you may be in a bitchy enough mood to want to test this latest incarnation of "Argentina's First Lady" and dare her to top Patti LuPone, Broadway's original Evita in 1979. These are all good and true reasons to revisit Evita whenever she makes a comeback (and this is one Andrew Lloyd Webber show that will always be around for another look), but there is one overwhelming reason to see this version — the performance of Josh Young as Che. This compact powerhouse, a Tony nominee in 2012 for his Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, is the real deal, a genuine Broadway star. He's responsible for taking this top-notch production even higher. His rich and resonant voice can wail like a rock star or croon like Crosby. His diction is impeccable. Not even the blinding-white heat of Evita can draw your eyes away from him. When he's not onstage, the place is darker. He makes the ironic "everyman" Che, the show's snarky narrator, its heart and soul. This doesn't turn the musical upside down so much as right it, keeping Evita just out of our reach, a woman of shady mystery upon whom we can drape all sorts of motives. The creators keep her at arm's length, too, which is one of the show's problems, as Evita is fairly unlikable, more whore than Madonna, sleeping her way to the top, the ultimate hypocrite, playing to the poor and raking in the cash. It's an unenviable role, except it's so iconic in Broadway history. It's also difficult to pull off, since the vocal range goes all over the map, from purr to shriek. Caroline Bowman looks great, a bit like Joan Crawford in the early scenes when she's a brunette, and she can tango like a pro and sing at the same time without looking winded, no small feat. Compared to the clarity of Young and Sean MacLaughlin's Perón (a second-banana role if ever there was one — poor Perón has nothing much to do except bump off his opponents and then moon around in the background as Evita takes center stage), however, her diction is nonexistent. I couldn't understand half of Tim Rice's amazingly felicitous lyrics. That is not a good thing. This 2012 revival streamlines the bloat from the original Hal Prince production, adds a bit more choreography by Rob Ashford, and looks and moves impressively under Michael Grandage's slick direction, Christopher Oram's Beaux-Arts arched setting and apt costumes, and Neil Austin's pinspot lighting. But without Young's certifiable star turn as Che, this Evita is more grounded than "High Flying, Adored," as the song goes. Through May 18. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby, 713-558-8887. — DLG

Heartbreak House George Bernard Shaw's Heartbreak House, set in 1913, is a wonderful comedy of delightful cynicism. The setting is the large estate of Captain Shotover, excellently played by Charles Krohn. Shotover savors his rum, and is forgetful, but is often wise, except for wanting to blow up the world. Shotover's older daughter, Hesione Hushabye, is portrayed by Celeste Roberts, in a truly magnificent performance, commanding the stage with charm. She's married to the dashingly handsome Hector Hushabye, played by Joe Kirkendall, who makes the most of the role. Ellie Dunn (Joanna Hubbard) has been invited to the estate in order for Hesione to dissuade her from marrying Boss Mangan (Jim Salners), an older man who's apparently very wealthy. Salners is outstanding, handling a complex role with dexterity. Ellie is marrying for security, but is really in love with a man who turns out to be...Hector. Shotover's younger daughter left decades ago, but returns as Lady Ariadne Utterword. Portrayed by Elizabeth Marshall Black, she is beautiful, and is drawn to Hector, and he to her. Ellie is accompanied by Mazzini Dunn, assumed to be her father, though in fact he's her uncle. Ariadne arrived with her husband's younger brother, Randall Utterword (Joel Sandel), a tearful wreck of a human being. A rather clumsy third act, rather than wrapping things up, dynamites us into a different play resembling Theatre of the Absurd. But nothing can spoil the rich joy of the first two acts as a witty, mischievous playwright makes serious points about human nature and the idiocy of the upper classes. Director Rebecca Greene Udden has found the comedy's rich humor and sardonic wit. Through June 1. Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Boulevard, 713-524-6706. — JJT

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