By Isa Goldberg/Chief Theater Critic
In front of the Casa Rosada, a swirl of tango surrounds the new regime. In director Michael Grandage’s revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s and Tim Rice’s, “Evita,” the underlying tension between an impoverished people and their love of their idols, Juan and Eva Peron (Michael Cerveris and Elena Roger) issues an ironic twist.
This is not the fiery, passionate Evita which first opened on Broadway with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin, nor the celebrity driven vehicle in which Madonna cooly vogued her way to the top. It’s Melodrama, with an eye to the moral ambiguity of good and evil, that takes center stage here.
That its rousing material, and infectious songs remain the stuff of superstars is obviously stirring all the buzz. A heavyweight at the box office, Ricky Martin as Che casts an omniscient, albeit light hearted sneer at it all. But he’s at his best when he’s crooning the audience, as in the late 2nd Act number “And the Money Kept Rolling In.” At other times he struts across the stage somewhat uncomfortably, as though he were playing to his inner mirror.
As Evita, Argentinean Elena Roger is a fluid dancer, one who is born to tango. Bold and sort of fierce as the young Eva Duarte, Roger is charming enough in the first act songs, most especially the disco-styled, “Buenos Aires.” Her voice is innate and raw, but despite her manic energy she falls short of the reach and dramatic nuances needed to transform into her country’s glamorous spiritual leader. Her rendition of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” rolls out without much conviction.
So as not to outstrip the others, Michael Cerveris, one of Broadway’s most dynamic musical actors, portrays Peron in an overly muted fashion. By far the most stirring voice here is Max Von Essen as the tango singer who helps Eva escape her desperate upbringing. His “On This Night of a Thousand Stars,” evokes forbidden pleasures.
Behind it all is a well-conceived visual production beginning with the funeral dirge that opens the first act. Chirstopher Oram’s staging and costumes, all in black and white, reiterate the bleak texture of the video projections by Zachary Borovay. The story builds into muted earth tones in the tango singer’s scenes where we meet the young Eva Duarte. But color flickers on to the stage, most especially at the opening of the second act, where Eva Peron appears in her wedding gown, glittering with diamonds.
But in this revival, it’s the ongoing life of the people that sustains the action, and which comes across buoyantly in Rob Ashford’s choreography. From the slow and simple waltzes, to the graceful echoes of street tango, it’s the dancing that lends humanity to the story.
As one can anticipate of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, the book (what there is of one) is overly ambitious and reductive, covering the historical events under the Peron regime from the military coup, to the debacle over the Falkland Islands, and the ensuing financial crisis. But theater going audiences have been engrossed for ages by far more simplistic musicals’ iterations of history as drama, from “The Sound of Music” to “Les Miz.”
Among the Webber Rice canon, “Evita” remains the most beguiling for me. As a study of the falseness of character, and the narcissism of benevolence, it’s a transfixing study, one which endears us to a character we’re loath to love.
“Evita” is at the Marquis Theatre (1535 Broadway). The performance schedule is Tuesday at 7pm, Monday – Saturday at 8:00PM, with matinee performances on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2: 00pm. For tickets call 877-250-2929, go to Ticketmaster.com, or visit the box office.
Photos: Richard Termine