By Peter Filichia –
Che misinformed you about Eva Peron. Your queen is indeed coming back to you, thanks to the 2012 revival cast album of Evita, now available on Masterworks Broadway.
We have Ricky Martin, the former Menudo star, as Che – not Guevara, as bookwriter-lyricist Tim Rice and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber have always maintained. Martin rolls his “r’s” and “n’s” to get that South American sound, and has the spirit and critical eye worthy of a critic of the Peron administration. That Webber often gave him theater-rock to sing was no accident; it sits well in the mouth of a revolutionary.
The name Evita translates to “Little Eva.” Rice and Lloyd Webber meant that ironically. Eva Duarte Peron (1919-1952) turned out to be substantially bigger than the Little Eva who inhabited “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” in The King and I. Ditto the rock singer Little Eva who taught everyone how to do “The Locomotion” in 1962.
No, this “little Eva” went from illegitimate daughter to First Lady of Argentina in 33 short years. She might have become vice president had she not contracted a terminal illness. Landing that position would have really rankled this Che. Martin even sounds mocking when he sings to Eva that it was “a shame you did it all at 26.”
And yet, although Rice was 32 and Lloyd Webber a mere 28 when they released the concept album of Evita in 1976, each hadn’t done it all by then. True, they stopped regularly collaborating after Evita, but Rice would have four more shows land on Broadway while Lloyd Webber racked up twice as many. The future Lord Lloyd Webber sprinted ahead in the ‘80s with Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, but Sir Tim caught up later with part or entire scores of Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and Aida.
Evita, however, was the best of their three collaborations (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Jesus Christ Superstar were the others.) But one Rice lyric does sound a little off: he betrays his British upbringing when he has the Argentinian soldiers say that Peron is “exceptionally dim.” Sounds more like Piccadilly than the pampas, wouldn’t you say?
In this new recording, Eva is portrayed by newcomer Elena Roger, a genuine Argentinian. Thus, hearing the for-real accent on our central character is most effective. When Evita gives her regards to Buenos Aires, Roger pronounces the second word as “Ar-days.” That’s authentic.
When one does hear Roger, he may feel that she sounds a bit like Edith Piaf. It’s as if “the little sparrow” is now playing a much bigger bird. The recording also reveals that Roger’s diction is substantially clearer than the Tony-winning performer who first played the role in America.
Each time Roger tackles the words “star quality,” she takes a grander and more thrilling approach. She snarls the word “savior” in an I-mean-business voice, and roars, “Screw the middle classes” in a way that shows killer instinct.
And yet, Roger can play demure, when she tells Peron that she’s “only a radio star.” She lets us hear that Evita’s use of “only” constitutes false modesty while the “star” is how she really sees herself.
Throughout the show, Eva is proactive. And yet when she appears on the balcony of the Casa Rosada dressed to the nines, she explains her glorious new dress by saying “I had to let it happen” — as if she had no control over her elegant new appearance. Roger sounds as guileless as Rice wanted her to sound.
Despite the claim, two songs later we see what Eva must have been like preparing for that day. Listen how Roger now demands to be Christian Diored, Machiavelled and Lauren Bacalled.
In between, she returns to demure in “High Flying Adored” by minimizing her accomplishments. Towards the end of the song, however, she adds, “But one thing I’ll say for me” before maximizing an accomplishment. It’s the perfect pseudo-modest boast, and Roger delivers it with a flash of pride seeping through.
We’ve all felt about our transgressions what Eva sings near show’s end: “Remember, I was very young then.” That Lloyd Webber set Rice’s lyric to one of his most stirring musical passages makes it all the more resonant, and Roger sings it poignantly.
As Peron, here’s Michael Cerveris in his Tony-nominated performance – the fifth in his career dating back to his first in The Who’s Tommy in 1993. Soldiers and politicians aren’t famous for their bedroom voices, but Cerveris certainly provides one for Peron.
Che doesn’t only criticize Eva; he also knocks Magaldi, her first lover who was 20 years her senior. Che sings, “You’ll never be remembered for your voice,” but that charge is harder to swallow when one hears Max von Essen singing. He adds the appropriate florid touches to “On This Night of a Thousand Stars,” Lloyd Webber’s variation on the ‘50s hit “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White.”
By the way, if you have a hard time believing that women would swoon over such a song and performer, listen to Frank Sinatra’s 1943 recording of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” that he made for Columbia. After Sinatra brings the lazy waltz to a soft conclusion, the girls and (perhaps) women in attendance scream at rock star levels.
The best revival cast albums don’t mirror what was placed on the original cast album; they add a little here and subtract a little there. This recording weighs in at six minutes longer, but that’s mostly because of two extra songs on disc two.
Anyone who follows Broadway and Hollywood won’t need much time to guess what the first one is. When Evita was filmed, a new song was added, and as is the case with many Broadway revivals, the new song has been included here: Rice and Lloyd Webber’s 1997 Oscar-winner “You Must Love Me,” which Eva sings to Peron late in the show.
Rice was clever to use the word “must,” for it can be interpreted in three different ways: 1) I demand and command that you love me, 2) considering what I’ve meant to you, this is the feeling that you undoubtedly have for me, and 3) please, I beg you: love me. Roger manages to get in all three meanings in her various shadings.
The other cut comes at the end as a bonus track. Roger reprises the show’s platinum hit, “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” but this time in her native language. It’s quite impressive.
There’s a good deal more dance music, too. The most spirited comes in “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You.” In the middle, Eva and Peron start themselves on the road to love by doing the most erotic dance known to man and woman: the tango. David Chase’s excellent dance arrangement makes it even sexier.
And even if you know previous recordings of Evita by heart, this one will be surprisingly good for you, too.