NEW YORK—The Tony Award-winning “Evita” (lyrics by Tim Rice, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber) makes a strong return to Broadway, with only one major casting problem preventing the show from hitting all the right notes.
Spanning the years 1934–1952, “Evita” tells the story of Eva Perón (Elena Roger), wife of Argentine president Juan Perón (Michael Cerveris). It shows her rise from a small-town girl determined to make it as an actress, to almost reaching the pinnacle of political power.
She uses her beauty, body, and wits to achieve her goals and often ditches one lover for another if said transition will result in a material advantage and a higher step up the ladder of status.
Tickets: 877-250-2929 or www.ticketmaster.com
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Closes: Dec. 30
Eva’s habit of constantly changing her man stops once she meets Perón, then a colonel in the army. The two become lovers, causing a scandal not only in Argentina’s high society, but among the military as well.
Ignoring the snide remarks, Eva helps propel Perón to the presidency, becoming the power behind the throne and Argentina’s goodwill ambassador to the world. All the while, she works to help the common people of her country, who cheer her on and revere her almost as a saint.
“Evita” offers a painful look at political realities and class consciousness. Eva, and to a lesser degree Perón, may indeed want to help those less fortunate than themselves, but in doing so, they take the country to the verge of bankruptcy.
Plus, no matter how far Eva rises and how much she does, there are always people who hate her simply because of where she came from. Also touched on is how Perón’s administration may have sometimes used questionable methods in order to achieve their various goals.
The score, which drives most of the story, is a joy to hear, just as the various dance numbers are enjoyable to behold. Some of the musical highlights include “Goodnight and Thank You,” “Perón’s Latest Flame,” and “The Actress Hasn’t Learned the Lines (You’d Like to Hear).”
Choreography by Rob Ashford is also very good, nicely complementing the different songs.
Ricky Martin as Che is wonderful as a cynical, omnipresent narrator and perhaps a conscience for the Peróns. He takes the audience through each situation and offers comments and asides as to the truths behind Eva’s public image. It helps that in addition to his strong singing voice, Martin has a tremendous stage presence.
Cerveris is quite good as Perón, though he has the least to do of the three leads. His character’s persona is both poised and polished, choosing his battles and words carefully. As such, he comes off as a smooth and somewhat calculating politician who sees the advantages in an alliance with Eva.At the same time, Perón loves Eva dearly and more than once talks about stopping their endless quest for power and getting out while they’re ahead.
Sadly, the decision to cast Roger as the title character doesn’t work that well. To begin with, the actress is simply not believable in her early scenes where she’s supposed to be 15 years old.
In addition, Roger’s voice tends to screech when the character gets excited, no matter if she’s talking or singing at the time. She also plays Eva as such a cipher that it’s never clear whether she actually loves Perón or if her concern for the people of Argentina is genuine.
Where Roger does connect is in terms of projecting Eva’s determination and her immense hunger for power, in these moments coming across as a force to be reckoned with.
The rest of the cast works quite well. In particular, Rachel Potter has a nice solo as Perón’s former mistress, while Max von Essen is fine as the man who introduces Eva to Buenos Aries, getting in a telling verbal jab at their last encounter.
Sets by Christopher Oram nicely recreate the feel of a villa, courtyard, and bar, among other locations. His costumes are also both functional and pleasing to the eye.
Direction by Michael Grandage is strong for the most part, except for his inability to pull out a continually strong performance from Roger, though his guiding hand keeps the play moving nicely.
“Evita” is a show with a lot of potential and indeed hits the mark quite often, but ultimately is not as good as it could be.
Also in the cast are Christina DeCicco, George Lee Andrews, Bradley Dean, Brad Little, Maya Jade Frank, Isabela Moner, Margot De La Barre, Melanie Field, Colin Cunliffe, Rebecca Eichenberger, Sydney Morton, Aleks Pevec, Johnny Stellard, Alex Michael Stoll, Constantine Germanacos, Daniel Torres, Ashley Amber, Eric L. Christian, Kristine Covillo, Laurel Harris, Bahiyah Hibah, Nick Kenkel, Erica Mansfield, Emily Mechler, Jessica Lea Patty, Kristie Dale Sanders, and Timothy Shew.
Judd Hollander is the New York correspondent for the London publication The Stage.