After last night’s theatrical debacle (see Billy Elliot review below), we were all in need of something to restore our faith in musical theater. And we got that in spades with the new Evita revival.
The production had been receiving terrific notices, but then again so had Billy Elliot, so we really weren’t sure what to expect. What we got was a thoroughly competent re-imagining of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s finest show and his last work with collaborator Tim Rice.
Yeah, I know, “thoroughly competent” isn’t exactly a rave. All three of us really enjoyed the show, but it wasn’t really revolutionary or wildly imaginative. It was just very different from Hal Prince’s original production, and extremely well done. Director Michael Grandage has thrown out most of the original production and started from scratch.
In place of Prince’s stark and cynical staging was a more literal and sympathetic portrait of Eva Peron, first lady of Argentina. The set and physical production were lavish and impressive, although Stacey and Noel, as costumers, had lots to say about the historical accuracy of the clothing. I adore them both, but nothing in what they pointed out really made much of a difference to me. (e.g. In the 40s the breasts would have been more pointy, and the hemlines weren't authentically Dior. Geez Louise.)
The principle performances were uniformly impressive. Elena Rogers as Evita was a spitfire of a presence, and her genuine Argentinean accent lent an air of authenticity to her interpretation. We were told by numerous people here in London that Rogers alone made the production worth seeing, and they were quite right.
Philip Quast as Peron was no less impressive. His six-foot-plus stature made for quite a contrast with that of the diminutive Rogers, but the marked difference in height created a telling irony: the true power of these two characters is inversely proportional to their respective sizes. Quast really brought out Peron’s ambivalence with his wife’s growing control over the people of Argentina and his concurrent increasing powerlessness.
Another star of the show was Rob Ashford’s thrilling choreography. Ashford infuses every number with an infectious energy and a sense of celebration. His repeated tango motif didn’t always work, especially in the opening requiem. But it was quite effective in “The Art of the Possible.” In place of the musical chairs theme of the original production, Ashford has created a somewhat homoerotic dance of power, and the results were chilling. And even though “Waltz for Eva and Che” is, appropriately enough, in three-four time, Ashford’s tango work gave the number a sharp sense of menace.
Is Broadway really ready for an Evita revival? Is Broadway ready for this Evita revival? I’m not sure. The success of this production if/when it moves to New York will probably hinge on the casting, particularly if Equity allows Rogers and Quast to recreate their roles. Matt Rawle as Che was strong-voiced and intense, but his English accent kept poking through and it was distracting and inappropriate. A very competent performer, but replaceable.
Again, the production was very well done, but not really ground-breaking or innovative. In the absence of a radical rethinking of the show, its chance for success with an American audience remains questionable.