Argentinian musical theatre star Elena Roger (b. Buenos Aires, Argentina, 27 October 1974) makes her Broadway debut as Evita in the 2012 revival of the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice blockbuster, having done the role to great acclaim in London’s West End in 2006. That performance earned her a nomination for the Olivier Award for Best Actress, as did her role as Fosca in Stephen Sondheim’s Passion in 2010. In 2009 she won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Édith Piaf in Piaf. She also appeared in the West End in Boeing-Boeing (2007).
Elena Silvia Roger was already an accomplished, award-winning actress and singer in her native city before Ana Moll, a native Argentinian doing research for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group, recommended her for the London revival of Evita in 2005. Roger had made her Buenos Aires debut with the Pepe Cibrian Company in the ensemble of El Jorobado de Paris (The Parisian Handbag) in 1995, and in 1997 had been nominated for the Trinidad Guevara Award as Best Breakthrough Female (“Revelación Femenina”) for her performance in a show called Yo Que Tu Me Enamoraba (If I Were You, I’d Fall in Love) by the popular Argentine composer and singer Chico Novarro. Subsequently she had an increasingly busy career in a series of musicals: Nueve (Nine, 1998), La bella y la bestia (Beauty and the Beast, 1999), starring in Los miserables (Les Misérables, 2000) as Fantine, and in Fiebre de sabado por la noche (Saturday Night Fever, 2001) as Annette. In 2003 she was nominated for an ACE (Argentinian Theatre Critics) Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance in Jazz, Swing, Tap. Two more starring musical roles followed in 2005, in Houdini El Musical and La Fiaca (Lethargy).
At the same time, she was performing in non-musical plays, notably with the Compañía de la Banda de la Risa under the direction of Claudio Gallardou in El pelele (The Village Idiot, 2003).
In 2004 Roger starred in a show of her own conception and creation, co-authored with its stage director, Valeria Ambrosio. This dazzling musical, Mina … che cosa sei!?!? (Mina, … What Are You!?!?), paid tribute to the Italian pop singer Mina, surveying her ample repertory from the sixties to the present day. (The “Queen of Screamers,” the “Tiger of Cremona,” now 72, has had 77 albums and 71 singles on the Italian charts over a period of more than five decades.) Mina … che cosa sei!?!? was presented in Buenos Aires in December 2003 in the National Theatre and during the following winter at the Metropolitan 2, winning the Clarín Prize for Best Musical of 2003/2004, and winning the ACE Prize for Elena Roger as Best Actress in a Musical. It went on tour in Italy in 2006 to Milan, Bologna, Turin, Genoa, and Naples.
It was undoubtedly the original cast recording of Mina … – which is almost entirely sung solo by Elena Roger in Italian – that opened the door for her to London’s West End. After her first audition, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice doubted that her English would be fluent enough for the starring role; but Ana Moll persisted in her conviction that Roger would be perfect and delivered a video of Mina to the producers, thus demonstrating that a language other than Spanish would be no impediment. After three transatlantic trips, Elena Roger got the job. According to Lloyd Webber, she was the only auditioner who was “not trying to do Elaine Paige, not trying to do Patti LuPone, not trying to do Madonna.”
In fact, like many Argentinians, Roger is of Italian (with an admixture of Welsh and Catalan) extraction – one glance at her profile confirms it – and still has relatives whom she visits near Genoa. Her sister is an Italian teacher. In the West End farce Boeing-Boeing (2007) she fit into the role of Gabriella, a temperamental Alitalia stewardess, without a hitch. The only aspect of Mina that might be considered incongruous with Elena Roger is that the former is a five-foot-ten-inch Amazon, whereas Roger is diminutive and built like a ballerina.
For her performance as Eva Perón at the Adelphi Theatre in London Roger was nominated for a 2006 London Evening Standard Award and for the 2007 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical. She found that missing an outright win (all the awards that year went to Sunday in the Park with George) was more of a stimulus than a disappointment, and promised herself to do even better at her next chance, which came the next year.
This time she was singing in French. The show was Piaf written by Pam Gems, directed by Jamie Lloyd, with Elena Roger as the “Kid Sparrow” Édith Piaf. It opened in August 2008 at the Donmar Warehouse Theatre and moved to the larger Vaudeville Theatre in October. This time Roger did win the well-deserved 2009 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical. She took a Spanish-language version of Piaf home to Argentina, where it won several awards, including the 2011 Konex Award for Roger as Best Musical Actress of the Decade, and then on to Madrid for three months.
During a hiatus back in Buenos Aires, she briefly revived Mina …, then returned to London to star as Fosca in a 2010 revival of the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical Passion for a limited engagement at the Donmar Warehouse. Once again, Roger was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award as Best Actress in a Musical.
Elena Roger returns to the role of Eva Perón in a new Broadway revival of Evita at the Marquis Theatre. Her co-stars are pop singer Ricky Martin as Che and Broadway veteran Michael Cerveris as Juan Perón. The show is directed by Michael Grandage, who directed the 2006 London production, and choreographed by Rob Ashford.
Roger’s versatile singing voice can be heard on the cast albums of Mina … che cosa sei!?!? and the London Evita. The original cast album of the 2012 Broadway Evita, a full two-CD set, was released on the Masterworks Broadway label in June 2012. She has also recorded two solo albums, Vientos Del Sur (Clarín Best Album), and an album live from Buenos Aires entitled Recorriendo el Rock Nacional. She has made three films so far: her first was an eight-minute short La voz (2010) which is viewable on YouTube; her second, Un amor (2011), was shown at Lincoln Center’s Latin American Film Festival in August 2012; her third, Otro corazón (Another Heart), was released in Argentina in September. La vida anterior (The previous life, 2013) is still in production. She has also appeared on several Argentine television programs, including Floricienta (2004) and Hombres de Honor (2005, nomination for Premio Martín Fierro).
Elena Roger has toured as a tango singer with the companies of Mora Godoy (Brazil, 2004; Russia, 2005) and Miguel Ángel Zotto (Italy, United Kingdom, 2004). In 2011 she made a national tour of the major cities of Argentina (as far south as Ushuaia!) with an eclectic assortment of her favorite repertoire: songs from musical theatre, from her tango shows, and from Mina ….
Outside of her work, the energetic Elena Roger works toward the preservation of the environment through recycling the earth’s resources. One of her favorite projects is the collection of used nylon stockings and tights to be woven into shawls and rugs for the benefit of the poor.
The three women Roger played in London, Eva Perón, Fosca, and Édith Piaf, were, she says, “like vanguardistas. They weren’t normal women. I am not normal … I know I can’t live without music or dancing. But I don’t know if I want to be a big star.” No doubt she is one, in spite of that.
– Lucy E. Cross, Elena Roger