Much of the buzz coming from the new revival "Evita" has been about the spitfire Argentine playing the title role. But all of the heat actually comes from the guy shaking his bon-bon.
Ricky Martin is easily the best thing about this revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber's bio of Eva Peron, which opened Thursday at the Marquis Theatre. He sings beautifully, dances gracefully, athletically climbs ladders, plays his role with a knowing sneer and elicits drools in his suspenders and tight white shirt. He even makes a mustache work.
In fact, maybe it's time for Broadway to have a new rule: Put Ricky Martin in everything. He would fit in happily at "Newsies." He would definitely enliven "Death of a Salesman." Heck, put him in "Mary Poppins" and watch the roof really lift off.
Crisply directed by Michael Grandage ("Frost/Nixon"), with high-kicking choreography by Rob Ashford ("How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"), this showy iteration of "Evita" had a yearlong run in London in 2006-07 and returns to Broadway for the first time since it opened there 33 years ago.
Of the three leads in London – Grammy Award-winner Martin as Che, the spokesman of the working class; Elena Roger as the ambitious Eva Peron; and Michael Cerveris as Juan Peron – only Roger has made the trip to Broadway. It was a risk: The petite Roger, who received lavish praise in the West End, may actually be from Argentina but is virtually unknown in the U.S.
Yet while Roger admirably throws herself into every tango and commands the spotlight, her voice doesn't always seem up for the demand of Tim Rice and Lloyd Webber's songs and gets a bit screechy at the higher registers.
Her Evita, overall, is more insistent and feral, less charismatic and glamorous. She barely pulls off such great lines as "They need to adore me/so Christian Dior me" and "Stand back – you wanna know what'cha gonna get in me/Just a little touch of star quality!" Madonna, who played the crypto-fascist first lady on film, didn't have the authenticity, but at least made those work.
Roger's "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" is good without being brilliant, and her "You Must Love Me" is lovely, though a tad angry. Tony Award-winner Cerveris is typically solid, able to add a neediness and tenderness to a Juan Peron who is thinly written. But Martin, whose repertoire of pop songs includes "Shake Your Bon-Bon" and "Livin' La Vida Loca," outshines them both with a youthful vigor that escaped Antonio Banderas in the film. Martin seems to catch the eye whatever he does: prowling the stage, mocking the Perons or just leaning against a wall.
Those walls, by the way, are gorgeous. Christopher Oram's balconies, palace facade and a piazza – all warmly lit by Neil Austin – are stunningly lifelike and rich. They even move forward or back to highlight moments. The use of two levels highlights the divide between the unwashed and the awash in jewels.
Ashford pulls out all the stops in the dancing. His soldiers are menacing, and his peasants have mastered a chin-raised, high-leg style punctuated by plenty of handkerchief waving. The group tangos aren't so regimented that individual couples don't shine and, at some points, the performers on stage add to the percussive rhythm by banging tables or stomping their feet. The music is big, brash, and the orchestrations – by Lloyd Webber and David Cullen – emphasizes Latin flavors.
And yet there's something distancing about this "Evita." Partly that's due to a fragmentary score that is steeped in opera in the first act and then gets Broadway brashy by the second. More than "Jesus Christ Superstar," the other sung-through Rice-Lloyd Webber revival that recently opened a few blocks away, listening to "Evita" reminds us that before it was a stage musical it was a concept album.
Another thing that all the great voices, sets and dancing can't overcome is the apparently contradictory feelings Lloyd Webber and Rice have for Eva Peron. Was she a cynical, bed-hopping manipulator who rose to power out of thirst for power or did she really have her peoples' interest at heart?
Both visions compete furiously in "Evita" and even clash in the same song, "Santa Evita," which can be seen either as a cynical public stunt between Peron and a child or a heartfelt moment of populist politics.
As in "Jesus Christ Superstar," Lloyd Webber and Rice are exploring the caustic intersection of politics and showbiz. There's one thing "Evita" has that its sibling does not, and that's a guy named Ricky. Hugh Jackman has some competition as king of Broadway.
Ricky Martin gives a great big touch of star quality to the seductive revival of “Evita” at the Marquis. He also gives an appealing performance in the role of Che, which, like the show, has been re-imagined since the first Broadway run.
The sung-through celebration of the life of Eva Peron, the loved and loathed First Lady of Argentina, is less scruffy, less overtly angry.
Che isn’t the revolutionary Che Guevara beamed in from another era. That’s so 1979 — when Harold Prince’s original production vaulted Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin into the stratosphere.
Now he’s just Che, a working-class everyman lending color commentary in the songs “Oh, What a Circus” and “High Flying, Adored” and others.
Pop heartthrob Martin (a “Les Miserables” alum from 1996) delivers his numbers with gusto. While he’s at it, he hawkeyes Eva with a sly “Get her!” expression as she bedhops to the top
.First, she has her way with tango singer Migaldi (a fine Max von Essen) and eventually president Juan Peron (Michael Cerveris, focused and powerful).
She was determined — right up to her death in 1952 at age 33.
Argentinian actress Elena Roger, who starred in this production when it premiered in London in 2006, occupies the juicy title part. She’s tiny in stature and not a belter, and her vulnerability proves persuasive on “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You.” But her voice can get thin and reedy — “Rainbow High” is a low.
Fortunately, Roger has such an expressive face and eyes that she rivets attention and gets under your skin.
At the same time, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s tuneful songs lodge in your head — the lovely “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” say, or a haunting “You Must Love Me,” borrowed from the Madonna movie.
Even with all its beauty, the music adds up to a rather sketchy portrait. The iconic “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina ” comes without context. Why’s she apologizing? Why’s the crowd weeping?
Director Michael Grandage and his designers cleverly fill in gaps and add texture. The set evokes a Buenos Aires in faded gray (even the pink Casa Rosada). A haze looms in shards of light. It all hints at the sinister side of Peron glamour. Such smart detail is a hallmark of Grandage’s all-muscle and ever-fluid vision.
Contributions by choreographer Rob Ashford (now also a busy director) can’t be overstated. Sexy tangos, erotic waltzes and meticulously built ensemble dances create sublime moments.
Best of all is “Buenos Aires,” which evokes small-town Eva’s introduction to the big city. “Stand back,” she declares as she glides, her feet and dress flying.
Stand back? As if. One can’t help but lean in, desperate for more. That’s what seduction is all about.
Last night, “Evita” returned after a 30-year absence from Broadway. The wait was worth it: This is a big, fat, juicy blockbuster of a show.
Naturally, everybody’s flipping out over the hot new bombshell in town. Usually we mean the actress in the title role, but this time it’s the guy who plays the narrator: Ricky Martin — you may have heard of him?
And does he deliver! Despite being vocally underpowered at times, Martin is a supernova of charisma in the key part of Che, a Zelig-like Everyman always hovering on the side of the action. (A country where every man looks like Ricky Martin must get a lot of tourists.)
This is just one of the many things that Michael Grandage’s lavish, large-scale revival gets right, another being Rob Ashford’s energetic, tango-inflected choreography.
And “Evita” deserves no less than a full-on, high-octane deployment.
Packed with memorable tunes (“Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” “Buenos Aires,” “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” “High Flying, Adored”), Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s propulsive, challenging sung-through musical is a modern masterpiece. The only relatively weak bit is “You Must Love Me,” which was written for the 1996 movie and feels generic compared with the older tunes.
In retelling the dramatic life of Eva Perón, Argentina’s former first lady, “Evita” goes for broke. There’s no other option when your semi-mythical subject didn’t just die — in 1952, at age 33 — but “entered immortality.”
Here, she’s played by Elena Roger, a petite, slender Argentine who’s equally believable as a teenager, an ambitious striver sleeping her way to the top, a populist president’s wife and a woman destroyed by cancer.
With her beaky nose and red slash of a mouth, Roger is an outstanding actress; it’s no wonder she was nominated for a 2007 Olivier Award when this revival originated in London.
Far from a saint, her Evita can be sexy, prickly, demanding, capricious. You easily understand why men fall for her, notably tango singer Agustín Magaldi (Max von Essen) and Col. Juan Perón (Michael Cerveris, in glorious voice).
Roger isn’t quite as convincing as a singer — we’re far from early Evitas such as Elaine Paige and Patti LuPone. Her upper range can get shrill and unsteady in “A New Argentina” and “Rainbow High.” And she worms rather than barrels her way through “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” which seems here like an intimate plea with her countrymen rather than a self-centered lament.
Roger moves well, and at barely 5 feet tall, she stands out in a large ensemble — even when Martin’s nearby, which is saying a lot.
Overall, the show has lost the subversive edge of Harold Prince’s original staging, trading a stylized, minimalistic black box for Christopher Oram’s outsize, realistic sets.
But there’s no denying the nearly physical impact “Evita” has on an audience. The woman and the show are back for good. Don’t keep your distance.
This just in: Eva Perón is still dead.
Anyone questioning the veracity of this assertion need only visit the Marquis Theater, where a lavish, worshipful wake is being held for Mrs. Perón (1919-52), the onetime first lady of Argentina. Michael Grandage’s revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s “Evita,” which opened on Thursday night, is from beginning to end so stately and sober-sided that you may feel out of place if you’re not wearing your best black.
As it did when it was first staged on Broadway in 1979, this bio-operetta begins and ends with the funeral of its title character. But unlike that earlier incarnation this version by Mr. Grandage (the terrifically talented director of “Red” and “Frost/Nixon”) never seems to whip up any human life in the intervening two hours of sung-through flashbacks. Despite the hard work of its spirited leading lady, the Argentine actress Elena Roger — supported by a barely there Ricky Martin and a sterling Michael Cerveris — this musical combination of history pageant and requiem Mass feels about as warmblooded as a gilded mummy.
The glacial temperatures may shock theatergoers who saw “Evita” three decades ago. Though critics weren’t much impressed by the show then, audiences found their way to it, partly because of Harold Prince’s adrenaline-pumping Brecht-meets-Broadway staging and partly because of the white-hot performances of Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin.
It was generally acknowledged then that “Evita” showed little depth as either a study in politics or a character portrait. (Writing in The New York Times, Walter Kerr memorably described it as “a bold step backward into — of all things — the medieval morality play.”) But it struck a nerve in a society that was just beginning to view celebrities in the prophetic terms of the pop artist Andy Warhol.
The “Evita” of the late 1970s was good looking, groomed to a high sheen, two dimensional and sophisticatedly star struck, just like a Warhol portrait on the cover of Interview magazine. What’s more, it seemed to possess something called irony, a characteristic that had yet to grow into the default point of view for young Americans. The show cleaned up at the Tonys, made stars of Ms. LuPone and Mr. Patinkin and, despite a flat-line 1996 film version starring Madonna, is still fondly recalled as an emblem of the days when Broadway had sex appeal.
Sexy is not a word that comes to mind with Mr. Grandage’s production, which originated in London in 2006. This version is, above all, sincere, even pious. Not so much toward Eva Perón (who died at 33 and, as the opportunistic wife of a dictator, remains a deeply, er, divisive figure) as toward Mr. Lloyd Webber and Mr. Rice’s work. Designed by Christopher Oram in a style that brings to mind the Metropolitan Opera at its most traditional, this production accords “Evita” the kind of respect usually reserved for Verdi and Wagner.
In other words “Evita” isn’t just showbiz, kids. It’s art. And as the show (with running commentary from Mr. Martin as Che, the disdainful, socially conscious narrator) follows its heroine’s meteoric career in the Argentina of the 1930s and ’40s from small-town social outcast to big-city actress and party girl to the most powerful woman in South America, it never cracks a smile.
This is true even when Mr. Rice’s libretto is sardonically chronicling Evita’s upwardly mobile game of musical beds during her early years in Buenos Aires (in the song “Goodnight and Thank You”). And Mr. Rice’s lyrics are tough going when they’re served without an occasional arched eyebrow. (The young Evita on life in the provinces: “Who could ever get kicks in the back of the sticks?” The older Evita as she prepares for a world tour: “I’m their product/It’s vital you sell me/So Machiavell me.”)
As the show’s center Ms. Roger, who was embraced in a bear hug by the London critics five years ago, embodies that unblinking reverence. In looks and self-presentation her irony-free Evita may well be closer to the real Eva Perón than anyone who’s played her before. I very much enjoyed her early scenes as the young Eva Duarte, a scrappy, mousy girl who is set apart from the crowd only by pure force of ambition. (Rob Ashford’s smooth choreography, which presents every possible variation on the tango, is at its liveliest here as well.)
But as she morphs into Eva the diva, growing blonder with each scene, Ms. Roger never gives us much by way of character definition beyond that same grimly focused determination. In her memoir Ms. LuPone wrote of her early days of rehearsal with Mr. Prince: “I knew Evita had to have a sense of humor. She had to have a wink in her eye, or the audience would not be able to come to her, or me playing her.”
Ms. LuPone was right. Without a wink Evita is not exactly a good-time gal, and here we never feel even an artificial warmth that might explain her immense appeal to the working classes. And there’s little variety or seductiveness in Ms. Roger’s singing voice, which is sharp and nasal, especially in the upper registers of the vocally punishing part. (You can see how she would have been good as Édith Piaf, whom she portrayed to acclaim in London.)
As Juan Perón, the man Evita made (in all ways), Mr. Cerveris (“Sweeney Todd,” “Assassins”) is, as usual, just about perfect. Though the Colonel Perón of “Evita” is mostly portrayed as an empty suit (or military uniform), Mr. Cerveris fills him out with a finely exaggerated mix of pomposity, uncertainty and raw appetite. And he’s the only one of the stars here who finds the vocal richness in Mr. Lloyd Webber’s melodies.
As Che, Mr. Martin, the chart-topping pop star, is thin voiced, polite, vaguely charming and forgettable. The intensity that Mr. Patinkin brought to the part has been discarded (along with the stringy hair and revolutionary battle fatigues), and this Che is a subversive you could bring home to meet the folks.
But I haven’t even touched on the main reason that this “Evita” was doing big business even before it opened. That would be the score by Mr. Lloyd Webber (whose “Jesus Christ Superstar,” also written with Mr. Rice, is on Broadway this season as well). Say what you will about Mr. Lloyd Webber, no composer since Puccini has managed to write tunes that adhere so insistently to the memory.
I thought I was fully immune to the show’s signature song, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” from having heard it everywhere (even discos) in my youth. But darned if that slippery thing, whose melody is a repeated leitmotif in the show, hasn’t attached itself like a leech all over again. And can anyone advise me about how to expel from my brain the jinglelike refrain, “I wanna be a part of B.A./Buenos Aires — Big Apple.” The show’s ads, borrowing from Mr. Rice’s lyrics, have it that “the truth is she never left you.” No, the notes she sings were just lying dormant, like a virus, waiting to infect our systems all over again.
When "Evita" first came from London to Broadway in 1979, there was much outrage about the glamorization of fascist Argentine dictators in a song-and dance musical. How quaint that sounds now.
Thirty-three years, countless global productions and a Madonna movie later, arguably the best -- and definitely the last -- work by the young team of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice has arrived in its first Broadway revival. The musical is more of a chestnut than a scandal now, and the glorification of dubious celebrity actually drives much of our culture.
And yet, I've always had a soft spot for the toughness of the show, which has arrived -- again from London -- with most of its bold profile and all its brutal, angular, stratospheric vocal demands intact. Director Michael Grandage's dark, stately staging has more surprising heart and more Latin authenticity than what I still fondly recall from Harold Prince's vibrant, chilling poster-art original.
This time we have a fierce dynamo of a Broadway debut by Elena Roger as Eva, the ambitious street girl with a contradictory fondness for finery, Mussolini and the poor, and who slept her way to superstar first lady before dying of cancer at 33. Roger, despite a few frayed top notes at Tuesday's preview, is a justly celebrated Argentine native whose sprite of a dancer's body belies a massive theatrical presence and the steely heft of her tangy voice. (Christina DeCicco plays the strenuous role on Wednesday nights and Saturday matinees.)
We also have the splendid Michael Cerveris in an unusually empathetic portrayal of Juan Perón, tyrant and adoring husband of the woman whose fame overtook his own.
But you want to hear about Ricky Martin, right? OK, the pop star is very dashing and genial, though without a distinctive vocal color to chase away memories of Mandy Patinkin's Che. Also, it is hard not to be annoyed at the cop-out decision to drop the character's revolutionary last name and, with it, the cigar and the beret and the levels of bite from the commentary delivered Zelig-like as the play's Everyman.
For bite, we get the sweeping, rousing, deep-dish choreography by Rob Ashford, who finds the unsettling connections between the eroticism of the Latin dance rhythms and the terror of military boots. The plot may gloss over the suffering of the oppressed, but the dance keeps it moving.
How do you solve a problem like Andrew Lloyd Webber? Two of the composer's widely loved and scorned works are in revival this Broadway season, and they offer very different suggestions.
The Jesus Christ Superstar currently rattling the walls of the Neil Simon Theatre revels in the humorless pomp with which Webber and lyricist Tim Rice approached its subject. Conversely, in a new, London-based production of Evita (* * * out of four), director Michael Grandage brings another larger-than-life character gently down to earth.
It helps, of course, that Grandage had better material. Webber and Rice found richer musical and dramatic inspiration in Eva Peron, the controversial first lady who mesmerized Argentina in the wake of World War II, than in the greatest story ever told. The worldly scandal, scheming and suffering associated with Peron's short life — she succumbed to cancer at 33, the same age at which Christ's time on earth is thought to have ended — was ripe for Webber's distinct brand of crass, creamy bombast.
Yet the triumph of this Evita, which opened Thursday at the Marquis Theatre, is its accessible, graceful humanity. As played by Argentine actress Elena Roger, reprising her West End performance from 2006, the title character is not the fiery spellbinder introduced on Broadway by Patti LuPone or the glamorous diva Madonna was in the film version. What's most striking about Roger's Eva is her fragility and her hunger.
We meet Eva as an underprivileged but ambitious 15-year-old, and Roger, at 37, relays her girlish openness as much as her drive. That vulnerability endures as Eva runs through a succession of socially connected lovers — as Grandage and choreographer Rob Ashford stage her trysts, Eva is a love toy as much as a seductress — and even after she and Juan Peron become a cynical power couple.
Though Rogers' voice isn't strong, her singing has a raw ache and folky authenticity. She also moves like a gazelle, reinforcing Eva's beguiling sensuality and adding further sparkle to Ashford's earthy, vibrant dance numbers.
The narrator, Che, isn't presented as the flamboyant revolutionary (based on Che Guevera) he became under Harold Prince's original direction. A charming Ricky Martin plays the character more as an amused, sometimes sympathetic spectator; though critical of Eva, as Rice's lyrics demand, he also conveys a certain tenderness.
Michael Cerveris' superb Juan is even more endearing. Though the robust-voiced actor makes a convincing dictatorial figure, what comes through most is Juan's genuine affection and concern for his little Eva.
Couples such as these may form "hoping their lover will help them or keep them," as Rice snarkily proposes; but they can still experience love, and pain. I doubt that any production of Evita has made this more poignantly clear.
Director Michael Grandage scores with a dynamic new "Evita," graced by an impressive performance from Argentinean actress Elena Roger and the ticket-selling presence of recording star Ricky Martin, who acquits himself nicely if not remarkably. The 1979 Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice poperetta comes off fairly well in its first Broadway revival, thanks to a director who doesn't seem crimped or intimidated by Hal Prince's striking original staging. That said, the flaws inherent in the material -- typified by grasping-at-straws rhymes like "That's what they call me/so Lauren Bacall me" -- remain. Look for boffo biz so long as Martin chooses to stay.
Buenos Aires thesp Roger took London by storm when she appeared, virtually unknown, in Grandage's 2006 production (here reassembled with a mostly American cast). Roger's voice is not so big as some of her predecessors in the title role, but no matter; she gets to the heart of the character. (The actress plays a six-performance week, with Christina DeCicco on the boards Wednesday evenings and Saturday matinees.)
The big attraction, though, is Martin, who previously appeared on Broadway (prior to stardom) as a replacement Marius in the long-running original production of "Les Miserables." Here he takes on the co-starring role of narrator/commentator Che, and while his fans will surely be thrilled with the results, a non-pop-oriented theatergoer might find him merely fine in the role, with nothing in the performance to suggest he's an international superstar.
The authors have stripped "Guevara" from the character's name, a choice that makes a more-than-subtle difference. Mandy Patinkin was memorably dynamic in the original Broadway production because he could guide us, with a swagger, through Evita's rise -- from small-time actress to Gen. Peron's latest flame, from power-hungry dictatoress to iconic "Santa Evita." Martin isn't given Guevara's scraggly locks or, for that matter, much of a character to work with; he does everything well, but there's no opportunity to seize attention from his castmates. In a classy gesture, the top-billed star gives the final bow to Roger.
Michael Cerveris offers some surprises as Peron; sexual sparks fly as the general and his new lady tango in "I'd Be Surprisingly Good for You," which makes his character more intriguing than usual.
Grandage -- known here for "Red" and "Frost/Nixon," both of which originated during his recently ended 10-year reign at London's Donmar Warehouse -- reunites with his design team from those plays: Christopher Oram (sets and costumes) and Neil Austin (lights). Everything looks stunning.
Also returning from the 2006 West End production is choreographer Rob Ashford, director/choreographer of Broadway's current "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." This "Evita," starting with a dazzling sequence during the song "What's New, Buenos Aires," is the most impressive work New York has yet seen from Ashford.
Lloyd Webber and Rice interpolate "You Must Love Me," written for the 1996 film version, but it doesn't enhance the problematic second act: After the rousing "Rainbow High," Evita gets sick and starts to die, as does the musical.
Lloyd Webber and longtime musical associate David Cullen have provided new and reduced orchestrations, which are loudly amplified but not as rich as the originals; the substitution of an electronic keyboard for what had been a prominently featured harp, in particular, is an unfortunate economy. New-for-2006 dance arrangements devised by David Chase for choreographer Ashford are an asset.