Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The new Evita on Broadway is a worthy successor

Evita is bring revived on Broadway next month - now in previews and opening April 5 - and it's marvelous.

The new production, first shown in London in 2006, wholeheartedly embraces the atmosphere of the time. The tempo of the music and instrumentation has been updated to a quicker, more authentic Latin sound than the original, with slow, and fast tango dancing woven throughout the performance. It sounds and feels higher energy than the original.
Everything in the staging and costumes is brown and grey and pale orange, dingy and post-war, making the two times Eva is dressed in white that much more impactful - and representing the power she was wielding. Dominant government buildings, jackbooted military, simple floor plan. The design successfully threw me into the period completely.

I was expecting Elena Roger to be good in the role of Eva Peron and she was. It's a very hard role to sing (huge range, often in the same musical phrase) and she packed a punch most of the time. I was not, however, expecting Ricky Martin to be good, and he was terrific. I was wrong before; he's not just a pretty face who can sing pop. He sang the part of Che with power and perfect pitch, humor and emotion. His English accent was a little off-putting at times but overall he was really very good. What a pleasant surprise.

Being an Andrew Lloyd-Webber/Tim Rice fan since I was 12 years old, I bought the original concept album for Evita in 1976 and had all the music and words memorized before the first show opened. The third performance ever, there I was seated in the front row in the middle transported by Elaine Page, David Essex and an experience which is still one of the most profound of my musical theatre history - and one I repeated several times over the following months.

But my history with the opera colors my experience. Without a big star like Ricky Martin I wonder if Evita will appeal to today's Broadway tourists? It doesn't have the flash of Superman, it doesn't have the humor and familiarity of Jersey Boys. When it was originally staged in 1978 Juan Peron had only been dead 4 years and Argentina's tumultuous politics were fresh in Londoner's minds. Today, 34 years later, do many people know the dramatic impact Eva Peron had on Latin America? Can they appreciate the complexity of Lloyd-Webber music which is much less accessible that Phantom of the Opera?

I hope so! And if you're in New York, and open to a thinking person's musical, go! This show is rock opera at it's finest.

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