Monday, June 25, 2012

Review: 'Evita' Returns To Broadway at the Marquis Theatre


Ricky Martin (front) with Michael Ceveris and Elena Roger (on the
balcony) star in 'Evita'.
(production photos except where noted: Richard T. Ermine)
One of the most anticipated productions of the season, ‘Evita’ represents the first Broadway revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical about Eva Peron since its New York premiere over 30 years ago that made stage stars of Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin. The show also represents the debut of singer Ricky Martin as a leading player and name-above-the-title star.

The musical chronicles Eva Peron’s life from the Argentine slums to the presidential palace as the country’s first lady. She knew what she wanted and used her smarts, charisma and many men at her will to achieve the adoration and lavish style for which she yearned. As wife of president and military leader Juan Peron, Eva cemented her role as one of the most popular and powerful women in Latin America. The character Che is shown in various roles participating or observing moments of her life.

The revival is reputed to be an authentic Latin production with Martin in the role of Che, the show’s narrator, and Argentine actress Elena Roger who is reprising the role of Eva Peron after much acclaim in the 2006 London revival. Sad to say the actress has not traveled well across the Atlantic (or to twist a line from the musical should it be said “that the actress has not learned the lines the way we like them sung”). Her accent was a given but numerous off-key notes at tonight’s performance had many in the audience shaking their heads. I saw Roger perform the role twice in London and she absolutely sounded far better there than she did in this evening’s show.
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Elena Roger
Michael Cerveris and Elena Roger
But what remains is an actress who is braving the criticism for six shows a week (as had been accustomed for the part, an alternate plays the role twice a week) as if she is just fulfilling a contract, careless of what others think and overshadowed by her male co-stars. The latter statement can be taken literally as her tiny figure is threatened to be swallowed up by the majestic sets by Christopher Oram.

It should be said that Roger is a great dancer as evidenced in “Buenos Aires” where she powerfully leads the ensemble in Eva’s introduction to the Argentine capital. But could it be her voice has fared for the worse over the years? In the more plaintive numbers such as ‘High Flying, Adored,’ ‘I Would Be Surprising Good For You’ and the anthem ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,’ Roger’s voice recalls notes that soared when she played the role in London. Even Lupone had a tough time at making “A New Argentina” sound beautiful on the American Premiere Cast recording but Roger’s vocals suffers a similar fate becoming loud and tinny in the number making her sound like a cousin of Minnie Mouse.

Ricky Martin’s only prior Broadway credit was one of the many actors to play the supporting role of Marius during the 16-year New York run of ‘Les Miserables.’ There is no denying that Martin is a charming presence on stage. Unfortunately Martin fails to seize the role as a commentator and critic of the Perons and becomes merely a happy bystander.

Martin flashes smiles and grins whenever possible with nary a hair on his head out of place wearing a costume that fits his handsome build to a tee. But the biggest disappointment is the fire that Martin has displays in his recordings (e.g. “La Copa de la Vida”) does not materialize here. Instead it appears he is intent on enunciating the lyrics as best as possible to the point that any trace of his Spanish accent is pushed aside. But frankly Martin looks so good on stage that one just yearns for him to push his limits so that he can fully embody the role.
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Elena Roger and the company of 'Evita'.
Max Von Essen and Elen Roger.
A hint of anger in “And the Money Kept Rolling” and aversion in “Oh What A Circus” could have sparked some fireworks that is brewing just beneath Martin’s performance. Martin and Roger probably fare best in the “Waltz for Eva and Che.” Something is there that buoys the downbeat latter half of the second act.

A large blame for the lackluster performances goes to director Michael Grandage who spectacularly directed the show’s London revival in 2006 and repeats the duties on Broadway. It’s as if somewhere during the New York rehearsal process, he lost control of his two leads. Roger and Martin needed a firm directorial hand to mold their performances.

What is a shame is the critical drubbing of the stars has reignited the criticism of the through-sung score. Lloyd Webber and Rice were in their early thirties when the show premiered in London. They took a subject that few would guess to be material for a musical. Lloyd Webber infused Latin touches in a score that was tuneful, memorable and accessible. The lyrics by Rice were quite often creative with unique rhymes (e.g. paring “Lauren Bacall me” with “Christian Dior Me”) and wrote the musical’s book that highlights the life of Argentina’s beloved first lady.

At that point in the team’s career ‘Evita’ is quite an accomplishment. Their only prior Broadway credit at the time was ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’. Though they had already composed ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,’ that show would not arrive on the main stem debut until a couple of years after ‘Evita’.
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Elena Roger and Michael Cerveris.
Ricky Martin and Elena Roger.
(photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)
Lloyd Webber and David Cullen rethought the original orchestrations for London producing a richer sound to the show. However a heavy hand in the musical direction at tonight’s show reduced some of the numbers to a lugubrious meter most obvious in the songs performed by Martin. It’s a wonder if this was a choice to accommodate the actor.

The rumor in the auditorium before tonight’s show is Michael Ceveris who stars as Juan Peron was severely delayed for a flight back to New York. Alas he didn’t make it and his understudy (Bradley Dean) played the role if ably though not remarkably. But something has to be said about the professionalism of the company in performing the through-sung score. During the ‘Rainbow Tour’ number Dean missed a lyric. The conductor repeated the musical cue, Martin picked up on the direction and repeated his last bit of sung lines and Dean was able to deliver the missed lines.

Also missing tonight is Max Von Essen as Magaldi. The talk is he is preparing to take over the role of Che for Martin’s planned vacation next week. Matt Wall does what he can do with the small role.

What is Roger’s poor reception this evening to her erratic vocals is Rachel Potter’s triumph as Peron’s mistress. Her dulcet tones in singing “Another Suitcase In Another Hall” is a welcome relief of pure and simple vocals. It’s a wonderful moment in the show.
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Elena Roger (center) and the company of 'Evita'.
Elena Roger and Ricky Martin
What is there to absolutely enjoy about the production? Start with the fantastic ensemble that embodies the people of Argentina and take the challenge of fulfilling Rob Ashford’s thrilling choreography. Even Peron and the Argentine military officers get a workout as they fight for leadership in take on the tango.

Oram repeats design duties and creates a set that matches its operatic subject. Three grand buildings surround the central stage. They move in and out or become shrouded to become the stately interior of the presidential palace. The structures are revealed when Eva arrives in Buenos Aires to opening chords that is some of Lloyd Webber’s most exciting music capturing the vibrancy of the metropolis. This main set offers a sense of depth beyond these main buildings to not only see palm trees in the distance but other structures beyond. The designs for the rundown club in one of the first scenes gives a feel of a rundown rural Argentina town.

The subdued palate of the set is matched by the similar hues in costumes that rely on Neil Austin’s lighting work to highlight the designs. Even Eva’s array of fashionable looks keeps within these color tones. Her striking iconic ball gown for the balcony on the Casa Rosada just has a touch of sparkle through crystal beads.
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Ricky Martin (standing, center) with
Elena Roger and Michael Cerveris (seated).
Michael Cerveris (center)
Some of Grandage’s work still impresses here as it did in London. Capturing the epic scope of the play especially in Evita’s “Rainbow Tour” of Europe, he shows what can be done to capture a quickly changing local of each city aided by luggage props and massive banners of the various countries flags as they unfurl with a thunder combined with the uncluttered musical staging by Ashford.

Without seeing Ceveris and Von Essen in the proper roles, it would be hard to comment on the production as it was meant to be seen on opening night. With the shortcomings of Roger, Martin and Grandage I can’t help to wish what might have been. It’s one my favorite musicals by the author and I would be hard pressed to not recommend certain elements if not the whole show. Knowing an ‘Evita’ on this scale is unlikely to come by again any time soon, I am returning to see the show again. Perhaps I am on a fool’s errand in search of a thoroughly spectacular production of the show I long to see.

THE DETAILS

  • Website: evitaonbroadway.com
  • Where: Marquis Theatre
  • Location: 1535 Broadway (inside the Marriott Marquis Hotel), New York
  • When: Mon, Wed-Sat 8pm; Tue 7pm; Wed & Sat 2pm
  • Running Time: 2 hrs 15 min
  • Ticket Prices: $67-$142 (premium $227-$277)
  • Opening: Apr 5, 2012 (previews from Mar 12, 2012)
  • Closing: Open Ended
  • Book Online: ticketmaster.com
  • Ticket Services: 1-800-745-3000
  • Cast Recording: New Broadway Cast Recording

Elena Roger and Ricky Martin
Michael Cerveris

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