Ricky Martin gives good lean—posing against a wall, languishing next to a pillar, and climbing a ladder, tilting his body precariously away from the rungs. Despite a voice that merely hits the notes, and arms as stiff as cardboard, Martin charms as Che. Part of that is due to the sex appeal that brings so many “livin’ la vida loca” fans to the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice revival. Martin’s clothing hangs effortlessly, with his white opened shirt and tight pants emphasizing the parts that make him worthy as a pin-up. Yet his physical beauty never disarms since he plays Che more as a friend than intense subversive. When the show opens with the First Lady of Argentina’s funeral, he wanders through the crowd, one of the people, as he offers a handkerchief to one grief-stricken person, and places a hand on another mourner’s shoulder. He seems as accessible as Eva Peron herself. It is unsurprising that a decline in ticket sales coincided with his summer vacation.
Evita first appeared on Broadway in 1979 and propelled rising actors Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin, into theater stardom, nabbing them both Tony Awards for the Eva and Che roles. The casting in director Michael Grandage’s version feels less balanced: a stratospherically popular Latin singer/actor, a Broadway stalwart in Michael Cervaris’ (Assassins, Tony Award) Juan Peron, and Argentine actress Elena Rogers as Eva, known more for dancing than singing abilities. I can’t comment on her work, though, since the Wednesday matinee performance I saw featured Christina DeCicco (Wicked), but the Martin fan behind me (on her third visit) said assuredly that the audience was lucky for the substitution since, “Rogers can’t sing.”
Casting a celebrity in a Broadway show creates a double-edged sword. The market brightens with the possibility of fans coming to multiple performances (see above), but that sometimes makes a show more about the star than the well-calibrated group effort good theater takes. And, in a show about Eva Peron, who inspires a recurring line about providing “just a little bit of star quality,” DeCicco needs to offer more luster than the other characters. With Martin’s omnipresent sparkle, she can’t. Cervaris does offer some competition as Eva’s general-with-president potential, partnering the calculating, standoffish presence of the rising politico with an underlying raw emotion, intimating that the power coupling was also about love. Rachel Potter as the Mistress out shines them all though, standing plaintively on the stage as the social-climbing Eva moves upward in bed and steals her paramour. The sweet resonance of Potter’s voice and its trembling vulnerability in “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” haunts all the remaining scenes. It is not a good sign when a few stanzas in the first act surpass the famous “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” number.
The revival follows the original plot, beginning with the end of Eva’s life and effectively uses newsreels to show the state funeral before time traveling back to her humble beginnings, to Eva’s time as an actress, and, finally, her rise to the near top of the Argentine government. The sets (by Christopher Oram, who also designed the costumes) beautifully change from a piazza where mourners congregate to a local tavern to the sweeping majestic marble columns of a palatial estate with the aid of Neil Austin’s lighting. Particularly pleasing are the sudden patches of light let in when the building doors burst open, acting as a spotlight of sorts for flamenco dancers or the crowds of citizens who enter.
The hummable score by Lloyd Webber is augmented by the addition of “You Must Love Me,” written for the 1996 film with Madonna, and also used in the 2006-07 London revival version. Rice’s lyrics still offer little depth—more chuckle-providing than sharp observation, such as the line, “Her only good parts are between her thighs,” sung in “Peron’s Latest Flame.”
When Evita opened in April, reviews were all over the place (see Huffington Post or Show Showdown May 14th or 21st reviews for examples), and it is easy to see why. Much of Evita offers enjoyment, but it never coalesces into memorable theater even though you’d like it to do so.