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TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: “Evita”

April 6th, 2012

Ricky Martin, Michael Cerveris & Elena Rogers of "Evita". Photo by Frank Ockenfels.

EVITA

Argentina’s controversial first lady returns to Broadway for the first time since her star-making original run, with a cast that includes Elena Roger and pop idol Ricky Martin.

“Despite the hard work of its spirited leading lady, the Argentine actress Elena Roger — supported by a barely there Ricky Martin and a sterling Michael Cerveris — this musical combination of history pageant and requiem Mass feels about as warmblooded as a gilded mummy.” New York Times

“This is a big, fat, juicy blockbuster of a show.” New York Post

“Even if you don’t like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music, it will hold your eye from curtain to curtain.” Wall Street Journal

“Director Michael Grandage scores with a dynamic new Evita, graced by an impressive performance from Argentinean actress Elena Roger and the ticket-selling presence of recording star Ricky Martin, who acquits himself nicely if not remarkably.” Variety

“The plot may gloss over the suffering of the oppressed, but the dance keeps it moving.” Newsday

Mizer’s Two Cents:  Let’s cut to what you want to hear first. You can feel the audience rooting for the ever-smiling Ricky Martin as if he were their favorite cousin in his high school play (see my review of Daniel Radcliffe last season), but (unlike Radcliffe’s turn on Broadway) the part of Che does not require good-natured charm and a handsome mug; it requires intellectual fire and a strong point of view. These are not Ricky’s gifts (though he certainly can be a gifted performer and he does sing the score well). To me, the production is unbalanced without a stronger counterpart to Eva. That said, most of the audience (and many a critic) seemed wild for his every move.

On the positive side, the show looks and sounds great. There are moments of grandeur in Michael Grandage’s staging that illicit goosebumps; the lighting in particular is spectacularly evocative and effective. It also sounds amazing, the ensemble and orchestra reminding you with every swell why this is perhaps Andrew Lloyd Weber’s most skillful score of ear worms, burrowing their quasi-arias into your brain. While some may gripe about Roger’s voice not being up to the roof-shaking power of Evita’s past, I was intrigued by her scrappy, physical take on this ambitious girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Hers is an Eva defined by motion not sound, most compelling in the early going when she dances with ferocious abandon (and with real dancer chops abetted by Rob Ashford’s exciting tango-centric choreography) and then in the closing quarter when that physicality is stilled by illness.

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