There is a moment in Evita when, with a single note, you know something magical is about to happen. Unfortunately, it happens halfway through Act I. Even more unfortunate, the actress, playing Peron’s mistress, finishes her solo and never returns. It is hard to tell just how talented Rachel Potter, that show-enlivening actress, is. The show to that point was such a lamentable mess that the audience was so desperate for some genuine entertainment that the worst liquid in that desert would have quenched its collective thirst. To be completely fair, Rachel Potter was not only the best thing in the show, by a mile; she’s damn good regardless of the context.
Also thrilling is Christopher Oram’s majestic set. Rob Ashford’s choreography is uneven but trends toward very good. When he lets the dancers dance, everyone delivers beautifully. Unfortunately, he often descends into traffic patterns with players Pied Pipering around to make the stage look busy. If that were his only goal, he was effective.
For me, that was where the joy ended.
Ricky Martin is about the happiest Che you’ll ever see. Either he is concerned about turning off fans or he simply can’t act. There is ample evidence for the latter. He doesn’t seem to know what to do with his hands, doesn’t seem to know what his relationship to Eva is supposed to be, and is about as fired up as a match in a down pour. Every time he took the stage with Eva, it was a master class in Chemisn’try. His singing is lovely but completely without grit; and in the most bizarre choice (not sure if it was his or the director’s), he throws his full Spanish speaking proficiency into the pronunciation of only the two dozen or so actual Spanish words in the score. For the remainder of the evening, he sings and speaks as if his dialect coach was a 14 year old girl from Connecticut.
Elena Roger may be a trained dancer, for what that’s worth in one of the hardest scores ever written for a woman; but that proves to make about as much sense as hiring someone to redo the Sistine Chapel just because they do a nice job painting toenails. She is also authentically Argentinian. If that is the only qualification you need, perhaps she can be replaced by Laura Bush, just because she was once first lady to an impotent political puppet. Personally, I’ll take an actual singer anytime. In this case, the actress hasn’t learned the notes you’d like to hear. I have never in my life heard someone control their vibrato with their adenoids. Ms Roger makes some of the most unpleasant noises I have ever heard on a stage or in a slaughter house. She has a trill that makes her sound like the love child of Edith Piaf and a goat. Perhaps her vocal limitations would be less noticeable if she could act. Alas, no one will ever find out. I will say, Elena Roger did something I never thought possible. She made me root for Eva’s cancer. And, during Intermission, I officially forgave Madonna. It really could have been worse, Madge.
Michael Cerveris received a Tony nomination for his 15 minutes on stage. I suppose in a year when Ron Raines can get a nomination, the bar is pretty low. I anticipated that Mr. Cerveris’s usual pompousness would serve him well here. It does occasionally. He shifts too quickly into his oft- and over-used I’m-going-to cry-now voice. He started foreshadowing her death before the Mistress’s suitcase was packed.
Max Von Essen, as Migaldi, raises the bar on pompousness well before Cerveris takes the stage. He apparently thinks he was cast in an actual opera. He slows down and stretches out every note he sings. I can only imagine if he has to step out of his understudy role and go on for Ricky Martin, the show will go past midnight—and I’m talking about a matinee performance.
The entire score is slowed down to a glacial pace that serves no one. Also serving no one is Michael Grandage’s direction. He makes choices that defy sense. The Art of the Possible is about the fact that any tool in the right place at the right time can steal an election. I know, I know, it’s just theatre. It could never really happen. By staging the number as a pathetic wrestling match, he changes the tone and intent of the narrative. That this new narrative is carried out by a man barely taller than Eva Peron tackling someone twice his size is preposterous. It was one of the few earned laughs of the evening. And how you can stage And The Money Kept Rolling In with a single card or a pad or a ticket? Could they not afford a broom?
I, like the show, could drag on; but I, unlike the show, won’t. The applause the night I saw the show spoke volumes without decibels. You could count the number of times the audience applauded during the performance on one hand—or maybe they were only using one hand to clap. During the bows, applause was tepid, picking up for Rachel Potter, and exploding for Ricky Martin. People were clearly applauding him, not his work, as they were calling out his name like lovesick school girls—well, perimenopausal school girls. My friends and I were sitting next to a young man from Italy who, like all of us, grew up listening to and loving the score and Elaine and Patti and even Julie Covington. He’d been waiting to see a production for over a decade. At the end of the show, he said, “Not the show I wanted to see.”
I can only imagine that, at some undisclosed location, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s career is rolling over in its grave.