In its first Broadway revival since it stormed the city in 1979 and won seven Tony Awards, “Evita” is back at the Marquis Theatre
Of course, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s operatic masterpiece packs the same power. There’s the addition of one song from the movie version, but this is not just a remounting. There are substantial differences between the revival and the original, and that’s not always for the best.
Pop sensation Ricky Martin as a sly, somewhat removed Che, is fabulous. He’s in great voice, moves with sexy confidence and has a sardonic take on the ambitious girl’s rise out of the sticks to ruling the country. He’s wise to everything and sings the expository role with the elan of a leading man.
Stepping onto that famous balcony, where Eva Peron greeted “her people” with the iconic “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” is Elena Roger, who performed this in London.
This is the role that made Patti LuPone a goddess on Broadway. Roger is not LuPone. No one is, no one could be, and frankly, no one should try – for that path would lead only to misery.
Roger is very much her own Evita. She has a strong, rich voice but it is not always quite enough. “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” and “You Must Love Me” are songs that should stop the show with sustained applause.
Roger’s training as a tango dancer is happily evident. There’s also a deep, tangible feeling the Argentine has for an important story about her country. Though born decades after Peron died in 1952 at 33, Roger has said that her family, like most Argentines, was sharply divided over the Perons.
Roger, though, is not sexual enough, and Eva Peron used her sexuality as easily as the rest of us breathe. Oh, there are the scenes of men lining up to be with her as she trades up. Evita always traded up, using her shrewdness, her intelligence and her sex to get to what she wanted, which was everything.
With Roger, it just doesn’t feel all that magnetic between her and any of the many men, especially her husband.
As Juan Peron, the dictator, Michael Cerveris (Broadway’s “Sweeney Todd,” TV’s “Fringe”) ably fills the role. There’s nothing fierce or dictatorial about him. Rather he is more in the shadows of his wife. He’s a solid singer and actor, but he seems pushed into inconsequence from the beginning.
Michael Grandage’s direction is sharp, Christopher Oram’s sets and costumes work beautifully. And surprisingly (a surprise because so much of his choreography is often vulgar) Rob Ashford’s mix of sensual tangos and military sharp-stepping is terrific. He takes advantage of the huge chorus.
Ultimately, though, this feels just shy of the magnificence it should have. Sure, not everyone saw it when LuPone and Mandy Patinkin (as Che) made names for themselves. And that’s why we have revivals. I just wish this one captured a bit more of the magic from the first.