The Argentine Tango is a grittier, frankly dirtier version of its more elegant uptown cousin. They don’t dance it in the current production of Evita, and more’s the pity.
There is an earthiness missing here, a frantic heat that just doesn’t exist. Instead, this is a very professional production of a monumental musical, and worth seeing for one major reason: Ricky Martin. As Che, he offers the counterpoint to the adoration shown to the Perons, particularly Eva, and exposes the seamy underside of their fascism. While Evita reaches out imploringly to the crowd, Che points out how little has actually been done for the country, while the Perons have stashed away millions in Switzerland.
It’s a dance. Just as our hearts go out to the poor little peasant girl who made her way to the top by going from one man to another, always trading up, Che brings us back to reality. The problem is that the mustachioed Martin is doing the tango with a very tiny partner.
As the title character, Elena Roger is elfin rather than lush, neat when she should be wild, and just plain not very likable most of the time. The sad truth is, this is not an Evita the masses would have adored; “Jenny From the Block” carried the message better. There’s a difference between belting and shouting. Roger yells many of her lyrics; I fear for her voice. In addition, her authentic Argentinian accent seems out of place; presumably everyone is speaking the same language. In fact, very often, Roger herself seems out of place in this production. This is all the more frustrating, because Roger has a delightful smile, and at the end of the show, in Evita’s weaker moments, she achieves true pathos.
Michael Cerveris, on the other hand, uses his voice to full advantage, and he sounds terrific. It’s a pity that he and Roger have minimal chemistry. It would have been interesting to see this hard as nails colonel really fall under Evita’s spell. That would explain Peron turning the spotlight over to his wife, and his subsequent doubts when she falters.
Evita opens with the announcement of the death of the Argentine first lady in 1952, at age 33. The action then flashes back to 1934, when a 15 year old Eva first begins her climb to fame and fortune in Argentina. The musical was first produced as a rock opera recording released in 1976. The Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber collaboration was first mounted as a stage production in London’s West End in 1978, and on Broadway in 1979. Evita has had several professional company tours, and several cast albums have been released.
But in this production, it’s Ricky Martin who steals the show. Dressed simply, very visible at all times in a long-sleeved white t-shirt, Martin stands legs apart, completely in control, and sexy as hell. He feels the Latin rhythm, in his body, and in his speech. His natural charm, warmth, and humor bring an infectious appeal to Che. Whether or not this is actually supposed to be Che Guevara isn’t particularly vital; this is a man who can foment revolution on the strength of his convictions and personality.
Seeing the crowd weep and mourn Evita reminded me of the scenes of North Koreans crying hysterically at the death of their “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong-il. Much of that demonstration seemed patently forced, and I can’t help but wonder if the same is true of those who were prostrate with grief over Evita’s demise.
Having heard the music from Evita, and having seen the movie, I was happy to experience what a good play it actually is. It will survive this incarnation unscathed, and live to be presented on Broadway another day. I hope I’m still around to see it.
Photos by Richard Termine
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. She is a voting member of Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association, and International Association of Theatre Critics.