DIVA TALK: Chatting With Evita Star Caroline Bowman Plus A Captivating Betty Buckley

News   DIVA TALK: Chatting With Evita Star Caroline Bowman Plus A Captivating Betty Buckley
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

Caroline Bowman
Caroline Bowman

Caroline Bowman
Caroline Bowman, who made her Broadway debut in the long-running Stephen Schwartz-Winnie Holzman hit Wicked, is currently starring in the title role of the new national tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's pop opera Evita. The tour, which is based on the recent Broadway revival of the Tony-winning musical, also casts Tony nominee Josh Young (Jesus Christ Superstar) as Che and Sean MacLaughlin (Woman in White) as Juan Peron with Desi Oakley as the alternate for Eva, Christopher Johnstone as Magaldi and Krystina Alabado as the Mistress. Bowman, who was also seen in the 2013 Tony-winning Best Musical Kinky Boots, is no stranger to the touring world, having appeared in the national tour of Monty Python's Spamalot and the China tour of Fame as well as a tour of the 50s-themed Grease in Istanbul, Turkey. Yet, this is the first time the Massachusetts native, who grew up in Maryland, is the leading lady of a tour, playing a role that made stars out of its originators, Elaine Paige and Patti LuPone, in London and on Broadway, respectively. Earlier this week I had the chance to chat with the Broadway belter, who spoke about playing the vocally challenging Eva; that interview follows.

Question: You just started performances this past weekend. How did they go?
Caroline Bowman: It went well. It was nice to finally have audiences! I’ve been in rehearsals for six weeks now because I had a week before the whole ensemble came in. So, it was definitely nice and rewarding to have an audience there.

Question: What was the audition process like? I would think this was a role that was pretty coveted by actors.
Bowman: Well, the audition process was about three months long. I had my very first audition in February, and then I didn't find out I got the role until May 7. I went into callback after callback, and every single time I went in to sing for them, they added a song. So by the end I was singing seven or eight songs from the show, and I also danced for them on three separate occasions. [Laughs.] It was quite an intense audition process, definitely the most intense I’ve ever had. But I understand why they had to put us through that process, especially now, because this part is a marathon – it’s huge. They really have to trust somebody, and I'm so grateful they chose to trust me. Thus far, I’ve only done three performances, and it’s just the most exciting and gratifying, and most challenging, experience of my life. I’m excited to keep exploring because it’s just the beginning now.

Bowman in Evita.
photo by Richard Termine

Question: How familiar were you with the show? Were you an Evita fan? Had you seen the revival?
Bowman: Yes. It’s definitely on my list of dream roles, so this is pretty exciting. I was more familiar with the movie, the Madonna version. I’ve had that since it came out. I never got to see it on Broadway, the most recent revival. I’ve seen different incarnations of it. I grew up in Maryland, so I went and saw a bunch of productions of it there when I was a kid. I actually had to do a lot of research before my auditions just so I could remind myself of the story and who this woman was, and obviously the research continued when I got the role.

Question: What was the rehearsal process like? Who directed and choreographed the tour?
Bowman: Seth Sklar-Heyn directed, and he’s Michael Grandage’s assistant or associate on the Broadway production. My very first week was just me and Josh Young, who’s playing Che, who's incredible, and then Desi Oakley, who is the Eva alternate, who also happens to be one of my very best friends. So the three of us rehearsed the very first week just to get our footing and to get a headstart. And [rehearsals were also with] Jenny Ford, who was the Broadway dance captain. She worked with us very closely the very first week, and then the second week was with the full cast, and Kristen Blodgette was our music director, who was sensational, and Chris Bailey, who is Rob Ashford’s second-hand man, he's our choreographer for the production. The second week was with the whole cast, and we rehearsed in New York for three weeks total with the cast, but I rehearsed for four in New York. And then we came to Providence, and we’ve been here for three weeks, and we did tech, which has been a very long process. I don’t know if you saw the show on Broadway, but the lighting is just spectacular, and it's gorgeous, and so they were kind of relighting it for the tour, and that’s done by Neil Austin, and he does amazing work. So that’s taken a while, and plus there’s some minor differences from Broadway. We don’t have the levels, so they had to relight different scenes during the show that are [now on] stage level. So that’s just been reprogramming and making it as beautiful as we can. And then we opened on Sunday.

Bowman's friend Desi Oakley plays Eva twice a week.

Question: You mentioned sharing the role with your best friend. Have you two spoken about the role together and tried to find things together or have you investigated it separately?
Bowman: A lot of the time we worked together learning the show, and I am so supportive of her, and she is so supportive of me. It’s unbelievable. There was a point when she and I were in a separate room rehearsing by ourselves because they weren't using us—they were doing an ensemble number. Our director walked in, Seth, and he was like, “I don’t know if in the history of Evita this has ever happened, where the Eva and the Eva alternate rehearsed together.” I just think we’re sharing the role, and who better to share the role with than somebody I love with all my heart and soul? … It’s a team effort. She’s there to support me, and I’m there to support her. "Buenos Aires" is so hard physically—it’s just so hard to sing—I give so many props to Elena Roger and all the Evas that have ever done this production because it’s just such a high-energy dance number. By the end I’m completely out of breath. I have no water or saliva left in my mouth. [Laughs.] I’m literally praying that these notes are going to come out of me at the end of the song. So Desi and I in rehearsal, we would jump rope the dance portion of the song and then we would sing the end so that we were really out of breath. We did that together a lot when we were in New York. [Laughs.] I’m just grateful for her.

Question: What are some of the other challenges of the role or the score?
Bowman: Oh my gosh. I think I discover new challenges every day. I had a moment during opening night. I don’t even know what number it was after. I think I was changing clothes because constantly you run offstage, and every time Eva walks out on stage, I’m in a new costume! [Laughs.] It just never stops. For the first hour of the show, you never stop moving. I think finding some kind of Zen during the show has been a big challenge for me because I have to go out onstage and at least pretend like I’m not breathing hard or pretend that I’m not exhausted because I haven’t been able to sit down. [Laughs.] I keep staying true to the story and where she is and how old she is and how much time has passed, and it’s tough because it’s a whirlwind, and the show goes by so fast. I think finding that inner peace and Zen and really just focusing on telling the story [is challenging]. That was all a part of my research, too. I have to know the show front and back so that I can be a little frantic backstage and then at least try not to be frantic while I’m changing and then go back out onstage and be like, "Here I am in the story, here’s what I have to say, this is my goal for the scene, this is my objective."

Eva Peron

Her life was so jam-packed. The real Eva Peron lived such a full, incredible life that ended, yes, way too soon, but there’s so much information that could not be put into this musical because it’d be five hours long… Telling the story, giving it as much integrity to her life as possible, that’s really important to me, and it’s really hard to do that in a two-hour play. She jumps from scene to scene, and years could’ve gone by. She’s a different person. How different are you from age 20 to 25 to 30? She changes so much in a short amount of time, so it’s hard not to do that abruptly. I’m still working on that, and I think that's something that’s totally exciting to me and thrilling. This is going to be a continual process figuring out who my Eva is because I’m still discovering and learning about who she is and how I’m going to portray her. I think that’s going to take me probably months. [Laughs.] It’s just the beginning, so that’s cool. What a cool challenge for an artist, the creative process.

Question: Do you have a favorite moment yet? Is there something you look forward to?
Bowman: Well, I really feel like I’m at Eva Peron’s peak when I’m singing “Rainbow High.” I love signing that song. It’s just such a wailer. [Laughs.] I can just belt my brains out and own the stage, and I love singing that. I have two fantastic leading men, Josh and John are just amazing to work with, and they’re incredible actors, and they’re incredibly generous. It’s so easy to bounce off of them. I love singing “You Must Love Me.” I love that moment because of its simplicity. Because of the franticness of the show, and what I said before, she is running around constantly, she never stops, and that is a moment where she is just sitting on the stage, talking to her husband, talking about how she feels, and talking about her fears for the first time, and you see her vulnerability and her humanity, and I think that’s quite important, too.

It’s really up to the audience to decide whether you like her or not, because it was very split in real life. There were a lot of people who loved her and a lot of people who hated her. I think this production has the same "problem," I guess, where you are left to decide whether or not you like her as a person because of the choices she made. If somebody can do so much good for humanity and for the poor people of Argentina, does it make her a bad person if she did it for the wrong reasons? I don’t know. So that's up to the audience to decide. So I love that moment, “You Must Love Me,” and I love doing the waltz with Josh. It’s hard for me to pick a moment because it’s an incredible role to play. I’m so honored to play her. I think I find new favorites every day based on how I’m feeling.

Bowman on opening night of Kinky Boots.
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Question: Have you toured before? What are your thoughts about being on the road and taking this around the country?
Bowman: I have toured before. I toured with Spamalot, and that was a couple of years before I moved to New York. I did the national tour. I also did the China tour of Fame, and I did Grease in Istanbul, Turkey. Definitely international touring is way different than national touring, and I kind of knew I wasn’t done touring yet after I was finished with Spamalot. I knew I was going to move to New York, and I’m glad I did because I moved at a great time for me, but I knew I wasn’t done, and this is such a luxurious tour. [Laughs.] We get to go to such big cities. So I’m excited, I’m totally stoked to tour again, and also I’m touring with one of my…

Question: And, you’re the leading lady…
Bowman: I’m the leading lady; that’s pretty amazing, and I also am touring with one of my best friends, Desi! How many people get to do that? It’s like I’m going on vacation. I get to do something I love every night and hang out with people that I love. Also the cast is incredible. They are just phenomenal performers and awesome human beings. It’s pretty amazing how they put together so many great personalities. I’m not sure if that’s what they look for in auditions, but they certainly did a great job of choosing winners.

Question: You mentioned before they don’t have the levels for the tour. I’m curious how “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” is staged.
Bowman: We do have a balcony… Peron’s front door, when Eva meets the Mistress, is not upstairs. It’s on the same level. It’s not that different. We just don't have the stairs, so it's just different lighting. For “Good Night and Thank You,” my front door is just on stage level, so we’ve kind of re-staged things a little bit, but it totally works.

Question: The original Broadway production didn’t have levels either. They just had the balcony and barely any set to speak of.
Bowman: I actually really like it. The costumes are incredible, so that’s basically another set piece because you’re just staring at the glorious creations on Eva’s body. [Laughs.] It's just about the story. We’re just telling the story, which I think is so important. You can really focus, and there’s nothing to really steal your attention. Don’t get me wrong, the set is beautiful. The balcony’s beautiful, and we have these gorgeous chandeliers. The details in it are gorgeous, especially for a touring production, and there are so many hard pieces that you can lean on and use as an actor. That’s pretty nice because a lot of touring productions are going out with soft pieces. They have definitely paid homage to the set on Broadway and the beauty that was.

Question: How close will this tour get to New York?
Bowman: I think the closest right now is Philly, and that’s next year. We have a couple layoffs, and they told us not to treat them as layoffs just yet. They might fill them with other cities based on how we sell and if other theatres pick it up… I really want to perform in DC or Baltimore because that’s where I’m from! Question: What was your first Broadway show?
Bowman: My first Broadway show was Wicked.

Question: Do you remember your first night—how it lived up to what you expected Broadway to be or how it was different?
Bowman: Oh my gosh, I was so nervous. I was Elphaba understudy, so I was in the ensemble every day, and I got to go on for Elphaba a couple times. My very first night on, I remember being so incredibly nervous—just because being a replacement in a Broadway show is so different than anything I’d ever done… I rehearsed without the cast. I had only really had one rehearsal with the whole cast so I could feel like it felt like to be on stage with the rest of them. I didn’t want to hurt anyone! I didn’t want to do anything wrong. The cast was so welcoming to me, and I felt very supported, and the stage management over at Wicked is excellent. I was really well-rehearsed by the time I went on for Elphaba. By the time I got to go on, I was ready, and I wanted to do it so bad. And that was a whole different experience being able to make that entrance. That’s again, another [demanding role]—she never stops either. That was good preparation for Evita.

Question: How would you compare those roles? You're probably one of the few to play both.
Bowman: I have to say that with Evita, I have been working up to this, so vocally I have figured out where I can pull back and where I can rest, and because I was the understudy for Elphaba, every time I went on, it was like being shot out of a cannon.  I didn’t know I was going on, so I just went full out the whole show! So I would say, in that aspect, Elphaba was way harder because I wasn’t building up to it. This is a sport we do, and if you’re an athlete, you can’t just bench press 150 pounds right off the bat—you have to work up to it. So I’d say that was hard not building up my stamina. But they’re pretty close. The only thing is because Wicked is not a rock opera, there’s speaking. You’re doing a lot of yelling as Elphaba, and I think that’s really hard, but they definitely both have their own challenges. And I think if I had gotten to play the role for a longer period of time in Wicked, I would have a better say as to which one is more challenging.

[For more information visit EvitaOnBroadway.com.]

Buckley in Old Friends.
photo by Joan Marcus

Betty Buckley in The Old Friends
There are few things more exciting in the theatre than being surprised by one of your favorite artists. Just when I thought I had seen the full range of Tony winner Betty Buckley's extraordinary work, I was enthralled by her dynamic performance in the world premiere of Horton Foote's Texas-set The Old Friends, which recently opened at New York's Signature Theatre.

Buckley plays the rich, desperate, conniving, love-starved, selfish alcoholic Gertrude Hayhurst Sylvester Ratliff, and her performance is as rich and layered as any of her award-winning musical theatre outings. In fact, The Old Friends marks Buckley's best non-musical stage performance to date and makes this writer hope this is just the first of many Southern women the Fort Worth native will tackle.

Buckley, who shares the stage with such gifted stage veterans as Lois Smith, Hallie Foote and Veanne Cox — all terrific here — is never less than captivating, and her work as Gertrude is so committed that it's hard to believe how much I disliked a character played by an artist I so admire. That said, it is to Buckley's credit that she is also able to convey her character's vulnerability, the depths of her despair and the fear that propels her often-egregious actions. There may be no excuses for Gertrude's shenanigans — especially her destruction of Sibyl's modest home and belongings — but Buckley manages to make a three-dimensional woman out of a character who could be played as a one-note villain. The second act bedroom scene is a tour de force for Buckley, who lays out her nefarious plans, only to recoil from rejection on all sides.

Foote explores some familiar territory in this humorous, moving, often gripping, sometimes disturbing, but ultimately satisfying drama, including the power of money, the treatment of elderly family members and the elusive nature of happiness. But it is Buckley's powerful performance that lingers, and while one hopes the Olivier nominee will return to the musical theatre — this writer would love to see her take on Fraulein Schneider in the upcoming revival of Cabaret — her work in The Old Friends may propel this quintessential musical theatre star to become one of our great dramatic actresses.

[Subscriptions to Signature Theatre and tickets to individual productions can be purchased by calling the Signature Theatre Box Office at (212) 244-7529 or by visiting signaturetheatre.org.] Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

Today’s Most Popular News: