BOY CULTURE RATING: *** out of ****
Couldn't wait to see the first Broadway revival of Evita, starring Argentinian actress Elena Roger, international superstar Ricky Martin and Broadway vet Michael Cerveris, so I didn't—we snapped up tickets to the final preview performance last night.
I'd never seen the show on stage, but was of course familiar with the movie and, in advance of Madonna doing Evita, I'd bought and absorbed nearly every possible incarnation of the songs—Julie Covington, Elaine Page, Patti LuPone, Korean Evita, disco Evita. Still, it was a total treat to see and hear the show in the flesh.
José and I had great orchestra seats which were, unfortunately situated in front of a group of ladies—a couple of generations—who sounded like they'd never been to a Broadway show before and were apparently missing the gene that tells even the ignorant that you're not supposed to openly chat throughout a performance. The youngest one, a girl in her twenties, was giddy about Ricky Martin, even going so far as to say she hoped he would shake his bon bon (which he absolutely did during "Waltz for Eva and Che").
The show is taut, and while it looks good, could not be called lavish. It's got a severity, an austerity of look and movement and sound that echo the iron-fisted Perons of Argentina. It of course opens with her death and never really becomes exuberant after that—the futility of Eva's machinations are a novelty to watch but we all know where things are headed.
Elena Roger, heralded for being the first Argentinian to play Eva in a major production, is solid, but her performance is likely to create rifts among friends seeing the show. We felt her vocals—especially in the upper register—were kind of shrill. There were times when she was singing that I cringed and thought, "This is not a pleasant sound." But she seemed to be more focused on speaking and bringing her take on Eva to life—and her Eva is nakedly ambitious and filled with a cold fury. For me, it was hard to find anything about her that could charm a nation. In the film, Madonna's Eva is a whole person, perhaps too sympathetic. But it made room for genuinely sweet singing. LuPone's was similarly tough, but I felt LuPone had more vulnerability in flashes than Roger allowed.
The sharp vocals tempered by enthusiasm for certain songs, like "Buenos Aires," and when Roger and Martin sang over each other, I think during "Goodnight and Thank You," it was not pretty. In short, you'll probably hear a lot of griping from some quarters that Roger got on some people's nerves.
But speaking of Ricky Martin—a guy I've never thought of as a particularly gifted vocalist—he was fantastico. From the moment he appears on the stage, he owns it, never ceding it, not even to Roger, except for perhaps half of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" (the first half is spine-tingling, the second half marred by more shout-singing). He is confident, sexy (but not to the point of being a silly distraction) and his vocals are perfect. He sounds amazing and tells the story. He understands the words fully, something I understand Roger did not do when she first took the role, learning it phonetically. (It should be pointed out that even factoring in the tricky phrasing in the songs, she is often hard to understand, while Martin's diction is perfect.)
Equally impressive is Cerveris as Juan Peron. He's totally lost in the man and his voice is out of this world. Also loved movie-star handsome Max von Essen as Eva's first useful lover, Magaldi, and Rachel Potter for her lovely "Another Suitcase in Another Hall."
The first act was unbelievably quick—it felt like the whole show could really be done without an intermission. The second act, after "Don't Cry for Me," was tougher going, with the plodding "The Art of the Possible" and Eva's failures and eventual illness and death. But numbers like "Rainbow High" (the audience really laughed it up at "Christian Dior me," clearly the first time many of them heard this song, interestingly enough) and especially "The Money Kept Rolling In" (not usually a song I'd single out) more than made up for the slight drag.
I imagine tonight's premiere will be a cause for celebration by all and expect positive reviews to follow.
Afterward, Ricky's car was highly visible at the end of a long, gated off walk from the stage door. Since we were there 20 minutes later (it takes a bit to get from the theater downstairs and onto the street!) we figured we'd wait. I was right against the barricade, so assumed I'd see him. We were next to some chumps from New Jersey, one of which was an obnoxious man who kept joking as people left the theater, "Who ARE you???" even when they were actors from the show or dancers. He wouldn't shut up, mumbled to his wife that I was trying to edge her out of her spot (I wasn't), left and then threatened to fight a guy who wasn't quick enough to let him back in.
Isabel Moner came out first and was escorted around for autographs. When the security guy said her name to be sure people knew she had been in the show, the lug next to me complained that if someone needed their name announced, they weren't really a star. (This is a little kid we're talking about.)
I missed von Essen but was happy when Ricky finally came out around 10:50PM (50 minutes after the show ended). People were jazzed to see him and he was being led toward his car at a medium pace, but he was all smiles and did politely sign most of the Playbills thrust in his direction. (Some loser who'd been backstage had earlier come out and "signed" the Playbill of the woman next to me as a joke, marking it up with a scribble!)
When Ricky got to us he asked us for a Sharpie—he's been on Broadway before, I couldn't believe he didn't have one at the ready as does every star at the door. Yikes! Very sweetly, he borrowed a marker two or so people down and returned the Playbills to us signed. Then he kissed a little girl and hopped in his SUV, which was promptly mobbed. The entire street was a clusterfuck for a few minutes.
Cerveris came out right after. Very nice guy, happy to chat and pose for pictures. A guy next to me was chewing his ear off about how the situation in Argentian is the same now, right down to its president's cancer scare. This went on far too long, I was guessing.
Finally, around 11:20 (!), Roger emerged. She did an impromptu TV interview with an Argentinian station (hey, wouldn't your publicist be peeved?) and graciously hugged and kissed the very few people who'd stuck around. She was very nice to us and the cute young guy next to us, who is in NYC seeing eight shows. (He recommends Newsies and Ghost and has nice hair.)
With that we were in a cab en route to sing variations on "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" to our neglected dogs.