Here’s a basic rule of thumb that the producers of the new Broadway revival of Evita willfully ignored: Whoever plays the title role, perhaps the most vocally demanding in Broadway history, must be able to sing Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s catchy but challenging score. No excuses.
Perhaps that’s why Evita, which examines the rise of Argentinean first lady Eva Perón, hasn’t been revived since its original 1979 production.
The star attraction of this long-awaited revival, based on Michael Grandage’s 2006 London production, is pop music star Ricky Martin as Ché, the narrator who skeptically and critically reviews Eva’s rise to fame and unquenchable thirst for power.
Playing Eva is Elena Roger, an Argentine actress who previously played the role in London and is now making her Broadway debut. Even if she’s unknown, she lends the production some prestige and authenticity. Joining Martin and Roger is Broadway regular Michael Cerveris as president Juan Perón.
Even though the ballad “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” has been overplayed to death, and the 1996 film version with Madonna wasn’t too great, Evita is a smart, political musical with an underrated score. Still, one wishes that “You Must Love Me,” a witless ballad written especially for the film, was not interpolated into the revival.
Grandage’s mostly accomplished production, which features Rob Ashford’s stylish and energetic choreography, a beautiful two-story courtyard set design and truly spectacular costumes, has the potential to be a dynamic crowd-pleaser, but is done in by its two leads.
Although Roger evokes Eva’s fiery personality, she simply does not have the belting vocal power to handle the demanding role – and her singing is often painful. It’s also strange how she is the only one in the cast to display a thick accent. Quite frankly, there are dozens of young actresses that have played Elphaba in Wicked with the vocal power to handle the role. Any one of them would have been a better pick than Roger.
Martin sings and moves well enough, but brings absolutely no personality or passion to Ché, who is supposed to maintain an adversarial, vicious relationship with Eva. As such, he more or less blends in with the rest of the chorus.
As Perón, Cerveris convincingly brings a boyish, indecisive quality to a role usually played as broadly authoritative. Maya Jade Frank also stands out as Perón’s mistress, who sings “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” perhaps the best song in the entire show.