Most of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals aren’t exactly grounded in reality.
Take “The Phantom of the Opera,” a supernatural romantic fantasy set in a haunted theater. Or “Starlight Express,” which is basically a kid-friendly acid trip on roller skates. Or “Cats,” which is about, well, singing cats.
But one anomaly in Webber’s fantasy-filled pantheon is “Evita,” the 1978 musical that traces the life and legacy of the fiercely beloved Argentine first lady, Eva Perón. A touring production of the recent Brodaway revival opens a six-day run in Shea’s Performing Arts Center on Tuesday.
Caroline Bowman, who has been playing the title role since the tour launched in September, said it’s her favorite Webber musical.
“It’s very authentic and we’re trying to really play these real people, as opposed to ‘Cats’ or ‘Phantom of the Opera.’ It’s not as mystical. It’s just truth,” she said in a phone interview from a tour stop in Portland, Ore. “We’re not up there trying to take you away to an alternate reality, we’re trying to bring you to our story that we’re telling of these real people that lived.”
Compared to the original Broadway staging by Harold Prince, the 2012 Broadway revival and the tour that emerged from it is more minimalist in tone and presentation. The focus here is meant to be on the characters, which ups the ante for the lead performances. Bowman says she feels the pressure, but is up to the challenge.
“It’s just a very honest version. We don’t have a lot of things on the stage. We have a beautiful set and beautiful lighting and beautiful costumes, but there’s not a lot of things onstage,” she said. “It’s just about the people and us telling the story, and I think that simplicity allows you to hone in on the characters that you’re watching and get attached or form an opinion on them.”
And when it comes to “Evita,” one of the more popular and divisive shows in Broadway history, opinions abound.
Patti LuPone, who originated the title role in the 1979 Broadway production, famously said that she had to scream her way through a part “that could only have been written by a man who hates women.” Madonna, who played the role in Alan Parker’s 1996 film adaptation, and Argentine Elena Roger, who helmed the 2006 London revival and its transfer to Broadway in 2012, reportedly had a better time of it.
For her part, Bowman shrugged off questions about the difficulty of performing the role eight times a week except to say that she sleeps a lot, does yoga and tries to take care of her body. As for being compared to LuPone, Madonna or Roger, she said she has learned to face the role on her own terms.
“I am nothing like Elena Roger. Everybody’s going to be different who plays this role, but I’m nothing like anybody that they had in mind. And neither is Josh Young, who plays Che. He’s not a Ricky Martin. Or Sean McLaughlin, who plays Peron. They’re fantastic, but they’re fantastic in their own way.”
At first, Bowman said, the famous Evitas of the past did weigh on her. But like any good actor, she used that preoccupation as fuel for her performance.
“I’m going to play her the way I think she is and was, and then people are going like it or people are going hate it,” she said. “It’s the same way it was in real life. I think that’s what kind of fuels me a little bit. In real life, millions of people hated her and millions of people loved her. I’ll have people split down the middle, and you know what? It’ll make me more like Eva Peron.”
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday
Where: Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St.
Tickets: $32.50 to $67.50
Info: 847-0850, www.sheas.org