Of the vast cast that made up Michael Grandage’s lush, atmospheric production of Evita six years ago in London, only its star, Elena Roger, has survived the crossing to New York. The producers of this late-1970s Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice concoction have given her a first-rate Broadway professional, Michael Cerveris, as her character’s Argentinian dictator husband, Juan Perón.
To add star power for pan-American audiences, the adorable pop star Ricky Martin was enlisted to play the story’s commentator, the Everyman figure known as Che. Singing beautifully, moving joyously, even occasionally shaking his bon-bon with abandon, Martin is livin’ the Evita loca.
Martin emerges as what, too often, Roger does not: compulsively watchable. In this story of a girl who slept her way to the top of Argentina’s power pyramid in the 1930s and 1940s, the performer literally illustrates one of her lyrics: “a little touch of star quality”. But an Evita with only a little touch of star quality is like a striker with only a pretty good foot.
To be fair, Roger, a petite, very pretty woman, gradually comes into her own. The shrillness of her voice begins to subside at the top of Act Two, when she glides out on to the balcony of the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires and sings “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”. The production elements reach their peak at this point: Christopher Oram’s design re-creates the grandeur of the capital’s architecture, and Neil Austin’s lighting stunningly modulates spark and shadow.
This musical’s original production, directed by Harold Prince to combine Brechtian bluntness with Broadway glitz, evoked more effectively the light and dark of the piece’s politics. Prince deconstructed the glamour of fascism with bite. It is a measure of this Evita’s modest attempt to illuminate social context that Broadway’s other new hit musical production of the moment, Newsies, does a better job of entertaining the senses and stimulating thoughts about the injuries of class. Newsies comes from Disney.
All the same, the sumptuousness of Grandage’s production, including Rob Ashford’s sensual, tango-heavy choreography, is very welcome. If the staging is in the service of a musical whose nearly sung-through nature sabotages exploration of its chief characters’ personalities, it succeeds at delivering stunning theatrical beauty.