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Theater Review (NYC): ‘Evita’

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A major Broadway revival of a show like Evita is bound to evoke comparisons, so let’s get them out of the way first. As a Broadway performer, the pop star Ricky Martin – the one cast member who gets entrance applause in this revival – is no Mandy Patinkin, but he gets the job done. His Che is less subversive than Patinkin’s was, almost entirely unthreatening. But then, the character is mainly a narrator and a foil, there merely to confront Eva Perón now and then with a personalized representation of public opinion.

Martin has adequate vocal chops, more than adequate in his high register, along with plenty of physical energy to fulfill the demanding role and grace enough to win over this dubious viewer. Most important, he’s got the wide popular appeal to bring in the crowds, and more power to him (and the producers who engaged him) for that!

Elena Roger in "Evita," photo by Richard Termine

Elena Roger in “Evita,” photo by Richard Termine

If his Che does suffer at all it is next to Michael Cerveris’s Juan Perón, a smaller but key role that Cerveris fills with smooth, solemn presence and a deliciously rich singing voice. One could almost wish to see him as Che instead, but at least we have him as Perón.

The excellent Max von Essen brings an almost operatic tenor to the role of Magaldi, the nightclub singer who is Eva’s early lover, and Rachel Potter’s Disney-princess voice is a nice match for the role of the Mistress, in whose one (mostly extraneous) scene she sings “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” – a song so sweet it hardly matters that the character was never seen before and is never seen again.

And that brings us to Elena Roger’s Eva. This incredibly demanding role made Patti LuPone a star, and any actress who attempts it has got to be brave, very strong, and incredibly talented, with a wide range both vocally and emotionally. Roger, a diminutive Argentine who has played the role (and others, including Piaf) on the West End but is making her Broadway debut, more than meets the demands.

Evita has great bunches of what is by far the best music Andrew Lloyd Webber ever wrote, some of it quite rhythmically complex, with songs that are both musically interesting and melodically memorable. On top of that, the show is as much an opera as it is a piece of musical theater, told entirely in song and sung text. Eva Duarte, who becomes Eva Perón, the beloved Evita of the masses, is on stage for a great deal of the time, singing, dancing, conniving, glowing, beaming, fading, and dying. It’s a huge splash of a role and Ms. Roger embodies it with sharply honed skills and enormous brio.

Any past “Evitas” are forgotten as we watch Roger’s angelic/demonic version scrap her way from small-town hanger-on to Buenos Aires socialite to the people’s darling as the do-gooder wife of the President. Christopher Oram’s manifold costumes and especially his palatial sets and are at least as impressive as those I remember from 20-odd years ago. The great director Michael Grandage’s set-piece scenes seethe with gravitas, while Rob Ashford’s at times breakneck choreography circulates life-affirming joy and working-class hardship in turn, though the oppressive nature of the Perón dictatorship gets a bit less stress than one might think it would. The European tour sequence, in which huge national-flag banners roll down and then fall to the ground one by one, and the famous Casa Rosada balcony scene are just two of the visual highlights.

The show’s quirks remain. Its operatic format necessitates a certain amount of prosaic explanatory lyrics, but in the context of the song form taken by most of the music, the prosy quality of Tim Rice’s words can be jarring. And the role of Che, meant as a fictionalized version of Che Guevara (who was a very young man in Eva’s time and not known ever to have met her), is a strange beast when done up to be actually reminiscent of Guevara as Mandy Patinkin was, and even odder when smoothed out like Martin’s version, which doesn’t suggest the famous revolutionary in the slightest.

Despite these issues, Evita remains a triumph of musical theater and this production with its fantastic star is every bit worthy of the hype.

Evita is at the Marquis Theatre, Broadway at W. 45 St., NYC. Note: at two performances each week, Christina DeCicco plays the role of Eva.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is an Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. He writes the blog Park Odyssey, for which he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City—over a thousand of them. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. By night he's a working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.
  • Jay

    I’m sorry, but I saw this production a week ago and I have to completely disagree about Elena Roger. I found her voice to be screechy, pinched, pitchy, and absolutely not right for this part. She was an excellent actress and dancer, but I couldn’t get past her voice and her thick accent which also made her unintelligible much of the time.

  • http://jonsobel.com/ Jon Sobel

    Jay, thanks for your comment. The accent did cause me to miss a lyric or two, but it was mostly not a problem, and we’ll just have to disagree about her voice. I wonder what you thought of, or would have thought of, Patti LuPone, who also had a very non-standard sound and singing style in this role.

  • Keltie

    Actually, originally and in the movie, the role of Che isn’t meant to be Che Guevara… he was meant to be the annonymous everyman and was transformed later into Guevara. Che has many meanings, just one being friend.

  • Ron

    Hi,
    I have enjoyed reading some of your reviews here. I am a huge fan of the musical Evita, and being past 50 am of an age where I was able to see and enjoy the original Hal Prince production many times and consequently many of the actresses, both on the West End and Broadway as well as USA tours, who have played this strenuous role. I caught Ms Roger’s performance in the West End near the end of the run in 2007 I believe it was; I have not had the opportunity yet to see it on Broadway. I truly wanted to enjoy her take on the role – indeed I was excited to be seeing a true Argentinian in the role. But this was not the role for her. Her voice was threadbare, screechy and downright unpleasant – something that has apparently not changed much in the half dozen years since if many of the reviews are to be believed. Her accent did not bother me(I know the whole show by heart and actually found that to be charming – that and her dancing were parts of her performance I did like!) But vocally, she is wrong for the show – and her not getting one award or nomination for this performance on this side of the pond bears that out.(If I am missing one please correct me – but from what I have seen she was shut out of every award going, including the Theatre World Awards for Broadway debuts).

    As for Patti LuPone, yes, she did have an non standard sound – but her voice is capable of blowing the roof off of a theatre – something most of her replacements in the original version were also capable of. Patti also had a ton of passion for the role which was apparent in every scene she was in. In short – Patti had ‘star quality’ – something sadly Elena Roger does not have; at least not with her voice.

    All that said, I have a lot of respect for the woman to attempt this role in her non-native tongue in both major theatre capitals of the world, and hope to one day see her in a role, musical or not, that better suits her talents, of which I am certain she has many.