Theater Review: "Evita" On Broadway
In 1935, a feisty 5’5” Eva Duarte (Elena Roger) moved from her small province in Argentina to the country’s capital city, Buenos Aires. She aimed to pursue her dreams of fame and fortune, but along the way transformed herself into one of the most beloved political figures in the country’s history, Eva Perón.
Seventy-seven years later, the fiery Broadway cast of “Evita” retells her powerful story six nights a week at New York City’s Marquis Theatre.
From the moment a center spotlight illuminates the face of Latin pop-sensation Ricky Martin, the audience is hooked to this 2012 revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s bio-musical of Eva Perón, which first graced the Great White Way in 1979. Martin brings a charming and “superstar” quality to the role of Che, a foil to Eva, who narrates her journey to becoming the first lady of Argentina and her tragic fall to cancer at just 33 years of age.
While Martin undeniably charms the audience, his presence also makes inevitably clear the prominence of the ‘pop star’ in today’s musicals. Fans snap cell phone camera shots throughout the performance and Martin gets the biggest applause when it’s time for the curtain call. But while he brings a rare energy and youthfulness to the show, his acting still has plenty of room for growth.
In actuality, it’s Buenos Aires native Elena Roger who helps lead the cast in keeping the story of Eva Perón alive and rolling in this 21st century revival.
While she may lack vocal power, Roger more than compensates by spitting authenticity into every word of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s award-winning score. Unlike the role’s predecessors (most notably Patti LuPone in the original Broadway cast), Roger breathes a different kind of reality into the role. The character of Perón is not masked by powerful vocals and presence, but instead is illuminated by a raw and less glamorous look into the rise and ultimate demise of Argentina’s leading lady.
As she stands as a beacon of hope on the balcony of the Casa Rosada in a glittering white gown, singing the famous lyrics of “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” Roger not only seems to be addressing her chorus of “descamisados,” but an audience at large who seems captivated by her every word. While criticized by some as lacking the overall power the role of Eva Perón demands, at that moment, Roger holds the audience in her hands not as an actress, but as a true embodiment of the power Perón possessed during her role as a political and spiritual leader of the Argentine nation.
But even as Roger and Martin shine in their respective leading roles, it’s a young lady with a single song and less than 10 minutes on stage that surprisingly steals the audience’s heart in this triumphant revival.
Rachel Potter (“The Addams Family”) plays the role of Juan Perón’s Mistress. Her character has no name and no true development, yet her rendition of “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” grabs the audience's attention and holds it in a vice for a mere four minutes of sheer adoration. With her crisp voice and powerful stage presence, Potter is certainly someone to keep an eye on for future Broadway seasons.
While the show thrives with its ensemble work (highlighted by exceptional choreography by Rob Ashford) and individual character development, it may struggle to strike a chord with a younger generation unaware of the story of Eva Perón. Somewhere behind the catchy operatic/rock music and the long-legged tango dancers, the story lacks clarity. One moment Perón is off and rolling on her European tour, and the next she is trapped in a haze of stories of her past while wheeling around on a gurney. As powerful as the story is, somewhere between the first and second act, it becomes unclear if Eva Perón is a girl who sleeps around, the first lady, a political activist, a saint, or all of the above.
But maybe that’s just the point Webber was trying to make.
Reach staff reporter Jessica here.