Evita Review: Ricky Martin as Broadway Weatherman
Six decades after her death, three decades after her canonization on Broadway, Evita is back, as immense as a Cathedral, as intimidating as a fascist rally.
A sing-through opera as popular as any from the nineteenth century, “Evita” tells the twentieth century real-life mythic story of Eva Duarte, who began life as an illegitimate dark-haired daughter from the sticks of Argentina, and with craft, ambition and bleach slept her way out of poverty and into power. She became the beloved/despised/crooked wife of Argentine dictator Juan Peron, then died of cancer at 33 – the same age as another historic character that the team of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Price turned into the pop idol star of a mammoth musical.
Michael Grandage’s revival of “Evita,” the first on Broadway since its original four-year run, inspires reactions of awe, ambivalence, disappointment and helplessness in almost equal measure.
The awe comes from the design. Christopher Oram’s sets of grand plazas and grand palaces evoke the grand operas at the Met; all that’s missing are some live mules. The sets are enhanced by Neil Austin’s lighting, which creates an atmosphere that alternates between worshipful and menacing. Oram designed the costumes as well, and they, too, add to the argument to see this production, rather than just stay at home with the original concept album, or the various cast recordings.
Whether you see the performances as an argument for or against this production seems to depend on what you are looking for. Exhibit A is Ricky Martin, who plays Che and functions as the narrator. A former teen idol turned popular crooner, Martin sings in a clear, pleasing voice, and has a stage presence that is both easy-going and magnetic. Not for one second is he persuasive as a stand-in for Che Guevara. It never made sense historically, though, to cast Guevara as the narrator; though born in Argentina, the physician-turned-revolutionary had no involvement in Argentine politics and nothing to do with Eva Peron. On the other hand, the casting of Mandy Patinkin as Che in the original Broadway production, with his anger and his sardonic edge, gave some bite and substance to such lyrics as:
“She had her moments, she had some style/
…But that’s all gone now/
As soon as the smoke from the funeral clears,
We’re all gonna see, and how, she did nothing for years”
With the narrator mellifluously explaining the action rather than harshly commenting on it, “Evita” seems less a complex character study and more an exercise in style. To some who see the show as overblown and unpersuasive no matter who plays the parts, the charismatic Ricky Martin provides a welcome source of unfettered entertainment. To those who are swept away by the operatic melodrama, the nascent song-and-dance man ruins it. (Put me down as leaning toward the first camp.)
It helps, though, that Elena Rogers, an Argentine who first took on the role in London in 2006, is a an actress of precision and subtle expression (much of which is likely to be missed from the more-distant seats at the Marquis.) She also throws herself into the many variations of tango provided her by choreographer Rob Ashford. But the night I saw her, Rogers’ voice sounded terribly strained on the high notes, giving brief rise to the thought: What’s the point of an opera if the focus isn’t on the singing? (I’ve been told that, when she’s had a day off to rest — Christina DeCicco is the alternate Evita, on Wednesday evenings and Saturday matinees — Rogers’ voice at the next performance soars.)
Michael Cerveris (“Sweeney Todd,” “Assassins”) has both the acting chops and the steely vocal chords to pull off a persuasive Peron, but his part is surprisingly small.
So how does “Evita” evoke helplessness?
One can, intellectually, dismiss such silly lines as “I’m gonna be part of Buenos Aires, B.A., Big Apple” or:
“Stand back Buenos Aires
Ya wanna know whatcha gonna get in me
Just a little touch of star quality”
But, once you’ve heard the melody behind those lyrics, it’s hard to get Andrew Lloyd Webber out of your head.
Lyrics by Tim Rice; music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; directed by Michael Grandage; choreography by Rob Ashford; sets and costumes by Christopher Oram; lighting by Neil Austin; sound by Mick Potter; wig and hair design by Richard Mawbey; projections by Zachary Borovay; technical supervision by Christopher C. Smith.
Cast: Ricky Martin (Che), Elena Roger (Eva), Michael Cerveris (Perón), Max von Essen (Magaldi) and Rachel Potter (Mistress).
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes, including an intermission.
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