One of the most deliciously juicy parlor games employed by Broadway babies the world round is fantasy casting - the man who made a mint off of sports fans with fantasy football was not too far off, after all, even when it comes to theatre lovers and their obsessions - and one of the most delectable of musicals to discuss, debate, dissect and deliberate upon insofar as its rich casting possibilities, now and then (and always), is Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's EVITA. With the news of producers announcing this week that the lucrative 2011 revival of the 1979 seven-time Tony Award-winning tuner would be closing at the end of January in lieu of replacing stars Elena Roger, Ricky Martin and Michael Cerveris, though they had previously announced forthcoming star replacements, the interest in what might have been reached a positive fever pitch. The New York Times reported Friday night that among the replacements considered for the role of fiery revolutionary Che - interpreted as more "an everyman" (their words) in this production as opposed to a Che Guevara homage like Hal Prince's original with Mandy Patinkin in the role (winning a well-earned Tony Award for his efforts; as did original Eva, Patti LuPone) - were no less than Broadway marquee name Raul Esparza and West End notable Ramin Karimloo, and, also, potentially, international pop star Enrique Iglesias, THE CAPEMAN on Broadway lead Marc Anthony and movie star/NINE revival headliner Antonio Banderas. Evidently, among the leading ladies considered or even outright offered for the role of Eva were GLEE star Lea Michele and LITTLE MERMAID and PHANTOM 25's Sierra Boggess, with the other candidates seemingly most likely for the role according to Broadway insiders to be WICKED and GLEE superstar Idina Menzel (who purportedly turned down the West End revival upon which this Broadway edition was based a few years ago), Tony Award-winning WEST SIDE STORY revival standout Karen Olivo (who is currently otherwise occupied with MURDER BALLAD) and AMERICAN IDOL winner and IN THE HEIGHTS replacement player Jordin Sparks (who appears to now be primarily concerned with her movie career). The possibilities certainly extend beyond even these. Whether or not any of these Ches or Evas would have ever actually materialized is anyone's guess, though the mere idea of many of these names in those roles certainly inspires some seriously enticing holiday daydreaming, no?
The Art Of The Impossible
So, let's speculate on what could have been by looking at some of the most damning evidence and clear-cut proof that these ten ladies and gentlemen could have very well made a memorable go at two of the most exhilarating, tricky and ultimately rewarding roles in the modern musical theatre canon - Che and Eva in EVITA. Don't cry for them, though - perhaps one or more of them will actually get a crack at one of these parts some season soon.
Top Five Replacements For Che
Whether played as "An Everyman" or a Benecio Del Toro-level homage to the controversial South American revolutionary, exactly how an actor plays Che has a major sway on not only how the role comes across to the audience, but also acts as a major factor in the overall success of the show itself, particularly given the way EVITA is written. With somber ballads, stirring anthems, hard rock and riotous Latin rhythms to navigate, the music-heavy role also offers the chance to play up the most sardonic and tongue-in-cheek moments in the mostly dead-serious rock opera. So, who would have been best to replace Ricky Martin?
#5 Enrique Iglesias
Son of Latin music royalty and a charismatic, sexy crooner with an ardent worldwide fan base, pop/hip-hop/dance music icon Enrique Iglesias appears to have everything right for the role of Che - everything, that is, but a heretofore unseen display of the considerable pipes necessary to handle the vocal material (in the original keys as written, at least).
Alas, he seems to lack a burning desire to pursue theatre, as he relates in this interview clip.
Oh, well! We'll always have "Hero" - and this live premiere performance of the international smash is pretty good evidence that he could have carried Che off after all for a short run.
#4 Antonio Banderas
The NINE revival made a major mark on the hearts of many theatre fans lucky enough to witness Antonio Banderas and his compelling take on the massive role of Guido Contini in the Tony Award-winning Fellini-based musical and an oft-bandied about ZORBA revival holds the possibility of possessing much delight, as well, but has the ship sailed for Banderas in the role of Che in EVITA? He was superb in Alan Parker's 1996 film, but that was lo fifteen years ago!
View the trailer for the EVITA feature film starring Banderas and Madonna below for a refresher.
Nevertheless, Banderas has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has what it takes for Che - onstage or onscreen; then and now - as was all too clear to see in NINE. Check out his Tony Awards performance. Let us hope he is back on the boards sooner rather than later!
#3 Marc Anthony
While he may be best known these days as the former Mr. Jennifer Lopez, Latin pop star and onetime Broadway leading man Marc Anthony has proven his mettle in the musicals of the Great White Way already with his central role in the ill-fated Paul Simon musical THE CAPEMAN in the 1990s. While the show was short-lived, he is fondly remembered still for his emotive vocals in it that live on through the concept recording and cast album.
As can be seen in this clip of Anthony on OPRAH performing the doo-wop flecked "Bernadette", he definitely has the voice for Che - and then some!
Also, Anthony shows off his rich vocal timbre in this duet with Tony Bennett on the Great American Songbook standard "For Once In My Life".
#2 Ramin Karimloo
The titular masked man of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA: 25th Anniversary Live At The Royal Albert Hall, as well as Andrew Lloyd Webber's sequel, LOVE NEVER DIES - to say nothing of his portrayal of parts in LES MISERABLES and many more - Ramin Karimloo more than meets the criteria to make a viable, and, dare I say, potentially revolutionary and powerful Che someday.
Experience Karimloo performing Lloyd Webber's iconic anthem "The Music Of The Night" from THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.
Now, for a taste of the passion he purportedly would have brought to his playing of Che, here is a glimpse of Karimloo as another revolutionary - this time, Enjorlas in LES MISERABLES.
#1 Raul Esparza
The main man for the role of Che in EVITA seems to undoubtedly be Broadway's own homegrown leading man Raul Esparza (late of last season's LEAP OF FAITH, among many other plays and musicals over the last twelve years or so), who actually has already played the role to quite a lot of acclaim all the way back at the very beginning of his career in the twentieth anniversary tour of Hal Prince's original version in the late-1990s. It's destiny, it seems - or, just maybe, destined not to be, as the case may very well be. Time is running out!
You can view the ferocious, fiery and immensely emotional Esparza unleash his considerable skills whilst embodying Che in this montage of clips from the anniversary tour. Me gusta!
For even further proof that Esparza was numero uno insofar as his all-too apparent applicability to the role of Che and also to enjoy a display of his mastery of the most mightily murderous sort of showtune to put over, here is his "There's A Sucker Born Every Minute" from BARNUM. Sold yet?
Even more considerations: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR's Josh Young (who did it at the Stratford Festival), DEAD ACCOUNTS starring player Norbert Leo Butz and MURDER BALLAD's Will Swenson. Or, better yet: Bruno Mars!
Top Five Replacements For Eva
Patti LuPone and Elaine Paige are two of the most iconic musical theatre leading ladies of the last century and both made their name with the role of Eva in EVITA - and for good reason. With mighty huge high heels to fill, Elena Roger valiantly stepped into the role of a largely unlikable ladder-climber who hopped from bed to bed on her way to the top of Argentinian politics. Teenage girl to deathbed at 33, Eva in EVITA lives it all - and that vast life experience is reflected in the almost inhuman vicissitudes traversed by Webber's magnificent and incredibly vocally demanding score (with even yodeling required). Roger won an Olivier Award for her essaying of Eva in the West End revival also directed by Michael Grandage but failed to yield even a Tony Award nomination last year for her performance. It's a tough one. So, who would have been best to replace Elena Roger?
#5 Jordin Sparks
Season Six AMERICAN IDOL winner and IN THE HEIGHTS celebrity replacement notable Jordin Sparks seems to have the talent, vivacity and star presence to make a real go of the title role in EVITA. But, eight times a week - or, even six (as many Evas usually do; including Paige, LuPone and even Roger, most recently) - could put her instrument to the test if the near-Herculean acting and dancing requirements of the truly triple-threatening part did not.
Yet, Sparks can wow a crowd like few her age can do, as is clear to see in this clip of her performing the big-bodied Barbra Streisand classic (and Broadway chestnut years before that) "On A Clear Day You Can See Forever" on AMERICAN IDOL.
Get a glimpse of Sparks in IN THE HEIGHTS, performing "Breathe" from Lin-Manuel Miranda's Tony Award-winning score from LIVE WITH REGIS & KELLY!
#4 Lea Michele
Before GLEE, Lea Michele established herself as a dynamic diva supreme with her unforgettable turn in Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater's controversial, Tony Award-winning rock musical SPRING AWAKENING, but EVITA is one of the most challenging musical theatre roles of all time. With LES MISERABLES and RAGTIME also on her resume, it is clear she can handle eight shows a week, but, again, Eva in EVITA? While it would have been a thrill to see, no doubt, Michele seems destined for future success on the big screen and small screen and a Broadway foray appears unlikely at this stage of her career. Who really knows, though?
Sample Lea Michele's complete "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" studio version from GLEE.
Now, for even more proof that she could handle it (and then some), take a look at Lea Michele singing "My Man" from the movie of FUNNY GIRL at last year's Music Cares tribute to Barbra Streisand.
#3 Sierra Boggess
With undisputedly the most polished, practiced and pristine of vocal instruments of anyone on our list today, original THE LITTLE MERMAID Broadway lead Sierra Boggess has already shown her winning way with Andrew Lloyd Webber lead roles in all three iterations of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA - that is, (next month) performing Christine in the stage show itself, originating the role in the Vegas edition and also portraying the role, ten years later, in the original cast of the musical sequel, LOVE NEVER DIES; to say nothing of PHANTOM 25. Yet, would she want to take on a taxing role like Eva at this busy stage of her career?
Witness Sierra in PHANTOM 25 below, performing the operetically range-y "Think Of Me".
Following that, enjoy her epic "Love Never Dies" from the show of the same name, accompanied by none other than the Lord himself, on THE Jonathan Ross SHOW.
#2 Karen Olivo
From her blazing Broadway debut in the original cast of Lin-Manuel Miranda's muy caliente rap musical IN THE HEIGHTS to her Tony Award-winning work as Anita in the Arthur Laurents revival of the legendary Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim musical WEST SIDE STORY, Karen Olivo has given us enough to go on thus far in her career to know that she would be a killer Eva with the vocal, acting and dance prowess to handle the demands. Too bad she is tied up with another rock opera for the time being, Off Broadway's limited run MURDER BALLAD.
Here is Olivo in IN THE HEIGHTS - simply astonishing from her very debut - in an unmissable performance capture clip from the show.
Savor this taste of Olivo as Anita in WEST SIDE STORY in this performance clip of "America" from THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN.
#1 Idina Menzel
"Idina Menzel IS Evita!" Just how many tickets would those four words alone have sold? What would have to happen to make that happen? Well, I guess we will never know for sure since she is apparently not going to be taking on the role in the revival, not now and not ever - though the prospect of arguably Broadway's biggest crossover star of the new millennium giving herself over to one of the most thrilling and unique roles in the musical theatre canon was perhaps simply just too good to be true. Ah, but what could have been - and what could still be someday. I reiterate what was said about Mr. Esparza: time is running out!
Menzel lends her awe-inspiring instrument to "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" in this live performance capture from 2008. Impressed yet?
Last, here is Menzel navigating the highs and lows of her WICKED barn-burner, "Defying Gravity".
Even more considerations: West End WICKED star Kerry Ellis, big-voiced Broadway baby Stephanie J. Block or triple-threat superstar two-time-Tony-winner Sutton Foster (who has played the role before, opposite her brother, Hunter Foster, who would be a good fill-in, too, himself). Or, better yet: Lady Gaga!
As a special bonus, enjoy two EVITA would-be headliners, Idina Menzel and Lea Michele, performing an incredibly emotional "I Dreamed A Dream" from LES MISERABLES on GLEE.
So, who would you have paid top dollar to see as Che and Eva in the Broadway revival of EVITA had the producers followed through on the plan to recast the lead roles and extend? Is there another performer whom you think would be absolutely ideal for either of the roles, with both in general being quite deceptively difficult to deduce due to the treacherously range-y nature of their musical material, the titanic dramatic requirements and the necessity of an indescribable "It" factor so as to set the spark of the show alight, ideally with two equally matched stars, at that? Indeed, EVITA will forever remain a favorite of fans to debate the inherit merits of, particularly the casting of the central roles, which rank among the most dynamic and difficult in all of Broadway and West End history. After all, Julie Covington, Elaine Paige, Patti LuPone, Colm Wilkinson, David Essex and Mandy Patinkin left some mighty grande shoes to fill (even if only on an album) - and, evidently, Elena Roger and Ricky Martin did, too. What triple-threat stars will EVITA showcase next when she makes her return to the Casa Rosada? My money is on Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars. Think about it!
EVITA perpetually sings on in all of our hearts, no matter who is actually starring in the show - and, in the end, she really never will have left us, no matter who takes on the lead roles.