There’s a joke recounted in Evita: Argentine first lady Eva Perón, on a diplomatic tour of Europe, complains that Italians have been calling her a whore. “But Señora Perón,” replies her host, “It’s an easy mistake: I’m still called an admiral, yet I gave up the sea long ago.” Andrew Lloyd Webber has a similar issue: The composer hasn’t had a box-office hit on Broadway since 1988’s The Phantom of the Opera, but people still think of him as the epitome of the Great White Way. Michael Grandage’s lucid if muted revival of Lloyd Webber’s 1979 pop operetta may prompt a warm wave of nostalgia, but also serves as a reminder that, once upon a time, bombast and flash were enough to secure theatrical success.
Empty spectacle is what Grandage studiously avoids in this swift and handsome production, which forgoes vocal power for a modicum of psychological complexity. This is not an Evita that will blow you away with its glam anthems or overwrought emotional climaxes (although “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” still sends chills). As Eva and Che, Elena Roger and Ricky Martin cannot banish the vocal ghosts of Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin, who welded their names to the roles in the show’s first Broadway outing. Roger has a tremulous low register—which served her well playing Edith Piaf in London—but she goes squeaky and thin during Eva’s high notes. Martin is charming but lightweight, stuck in a blandly cheerful emcee mode as he narrates the ascent and death of Eva, the singer turned wife and political goad to dictator Juan Perón (Michael Cerveris). For his part, the intense Cerveris endows Perón with almost too much warmth and humanity.
Grandage (who smartly retires Harold Prince’s concept of styling Che as Che Guevara) delivers a scrupulous production that makes you forget how leaden Tim Rice’s libretto is, while Rob Ashford’s sinuous choreography breathes life into the static dramaturgy. Lloyd Webber was at the height of his powers when he wrote Evita, and the magpie score (pseudoclassical! soft rock! tango!) is flamboyant fun. The Street has moved on since then; but it was good to Lloyd Webber, so we won’t cry for him.—David Cote
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