This is a solid but far from electrifying production of what may be Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s strongest score. Evita tells the story of Eva Perón, the charismatic wife of authoritarian Argentinian president Juan Perón. Born poor in the slums of the provincial town of Junín, María Eva Duarte became a radio star, and married Perón when he was just a rising political star. We see her story through the eyes of a cynical leftist named Che.
Director Michael Grandage is a British master of realism – his productions of Red and Frost/Nixon were powerful for that very reason. His style also works very well for classical theatre, which has meant wonderful, realism-inflected versions of Hamlet and Mary Stuart. But Evita isn’t realism, and it isn’t classical. So what we have here is great talent largely misapplied.
I’m not saying that Grandage’s approach bears no fruit here: he brings out Eva’s humanity and vulnerability in new ways and, together with set designer Christopher Oram, makes dramatic use of Argentina’s beautiful architecture. It’s successful in its way, but nonetheless seems to somewhat miss the point.
Evita has a definite attitude about Eva, expressed not only through acerbic commentary Time Rice wrote for Che, but also through Webber’s Wagnerian use of musical themes to symbolize assorted ideas and parts of society. Grandage largely ignores these cues, giving us big production numbers (choreographed by a tango-happy Rob Ashford) that lack the necessary tension, danger and excitement.
One number in the second act “And the Money Kept Rolling In” really explodes, but does that in part because Grandage and Ashford have been inexplicably holding back until that point. Evita has multiple climaxes (ahem) and building to just one in the second act makes zero sense to me.
All that said, the leads are working hard in their assignments. Ricky Martin makes a very ingratiating Che, which does help tell the story with a certain clarity. The diminutive Elena Rogers is physically similar to historical Eva (more striking and glamorous than truly gorgeous), and puts her whole heart into acting the role, even if vocally she doesn’t quite have the belting power the part so desperately needs. Michael Cerveris successfully captures both Perón’s macho authority and his genuine tenderness toward Eva.
This is a good, but not great Evita. I liked it, but I really wish I had loved it.
For tickets, click here.