EVITA is back on Broadway in a grande way - with the ticket sales and stage door insanity to prove it. While last night's Michael Grandage-directed revival of the classic Tony Award-winning Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice rock opera was met with generally positive plaudits, the centerpiece of conversation - from the Marquis stage last night to the news pages this morning - is the pop idol portraying the lead male role, Che - Puerto Rican Grammy-winning superstar Ricky Martin. While authenticity is the buzz word when it comes to almost all aspects of this more naturalism based production, an actual Argentinean playing Eva Peron with the accent to match is an added bonus in a studiously researched and accurately realized version that more closely resembles Alan Parker's 1996 film adaptation in its clear, clean style than it does Hal Prince's original 1979 metaphorical political play rife with symbols. Though some reviewers did not warm to Martin in the lead role, many seem to agree Olivier Award-winning Elena Roger is a highlight of the season so far (she previously starred in the earlier, Ricky-less West End iteration of this production for more than a year) and Tony-winner Michael Cerveris - as an imperious Juan Peron - is impressive, as always, quite expectedly. So, don't cry for Ricky - the million-dollar-plus box office receipts and stage door pandemonium are clear proof he is a beloved Broadway baby and bringing in brand new audiences to the world of theatre and the absolute street of streets, offering the best entertainment the world has to offer - as only Broadway can do. Considering EVITA is perhaps Andrew Lloyd Webber's finest score of all - quite an achievement when just considering his other two musicals currently treading the boards, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (now in its 26th year and the longest running show in history) as well as the new Des McAnuff-directed revival of Tim Rice and Lloyd Webber's previous collaboration prior to EVITA, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, which opened to generally good reviews only last week. Given this week's particularly notable holidays for the Christians and Jews among us, it seems that 2012 is the year of Our Lord on Broadway, for sure - Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, that is.
So, today, let's take a look back at some of the best and brassiest EVITA performances to date, culling clips from way back in the mid-70s for the original concept album, then to the premiere West End production starring Elaine Paige in 1978 and the Broadway version with Patti LuPone in 1979 up to to the movie with Madonna in the mid-90s and, of course, the post-millennium Grandage revivals in the West End and on Broadway themselves. Judging from the continued success of EVITA over the last thirty years and continuing on now with this well-received revival for a whole new generation, it is evident that no matter what may come to pass in the future, sooner or later we will be reminded that, no matter what, the truth is EVITA never really left us.
It's Only Your Lover Returning
When the concept album of EVITA burst onto the scene in 1976, the unexpected worldwide success of the lead single and Act II/LP 2 opener "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" by concept album Eva, smoky-voiced recording artist Julie Covington, could not have caught the composing team behind the experimental and politically rife rock opera, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, more off guard. At the last moment, the title of that song itself was changed, and, if you sing the original title to the now-internationally-renown tune, you will see the possibilities - dramatic, thematic, theatrical and otherwise - of Rice's original intention for the lyric: "It's Only Your Lover Returning". While no demo of this original lyric has been found yet, there are some intriguing demos and oddities that have arisen over the years - due in no small part to the various attempts to film the hit show. After all, Michelle Pfeiffer, Liza Minnelli and Meryl Streep all were under serious consideration for the role by the various and fleeting helmers of the proposed film property - Ken Russell and Oliver Stone among them, the latter whom retains a screenwriting credit on the eventual final film version, starring Madonna and directed by FAME director Alan Parker. EVITA has come a long, long way from her concept album roots in 1976 - from 6s and 7s all the way to dressed to the nines, indeed.
First up, let's take a listen to the song that won the world over to the musical charms of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's EVITA, "Don't Cry For Me Argentina", as heard on the original concept album performed by Julie Covington.
Colm Wilkinson, who would go on to much success playing the title role in Andrew Lloyd Webber's THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA ten years later, originally sang the part of Che on the concept album. Here we have a song not included in the original Broadway production, but reincorporated into the film score, the raucous electric guitar-fueled, "The Lady's Got Potential".
Take a listen to this live recording of Elaine Paige performing "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" in the originAl West End production in 1978, directed by Hal Prince.
Next, witness Paige performing the song twenty years later, at Andrew Lloyd Webber's 50th Birthday Celebration, looking and sounding even better than she memorably did in 1978. Wow!
On the same night, formidable film Che, Antonio Banderas, performed one of the most memorable and alluring ballads from the varied score of EVITA, "High Flying, Adored".
Here we have Broadway Eva Patti LuPone chatting a little and singing a lot in this fantastic clip from THE Merv Griffin SHOW in 1979 - certainly this is a "Rainbow High" to raise the roof!
Now, for one of the best EVITA performance clips to date: "A New Argentina", the unforgettable Act One Finale, as performed on the 1980 Tony Awards, led by the cast of the show and that night's Tony-winners, Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin.
Also from 1980, here we have Patti LuPone performing "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" as only she can at that year's Grammy Awards.
Check out this special curiosity in the form of Michelle Pfeiffer's meekly and sweetly sung "Buenos Aires" demo, taken from the period in the late-80s when Oliver Stone was considering taking the reigns of a film adaptation of EVITA.
The film version of EVITA finally came into being in 1996 and Madonna made magic out of the role in her own special way. While the score had certainly been sung far more impressively in the past and since, she brought something truly worth treasuring to the enterprise. This sequence was filmed at the actual Casa Rosada.
Besides winning a Golden Globe for the film herself, Madonna also was responsible for Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice re-teaming after nearly twenty years to pen a new eleventh hour ballad for Eva, the simple and effective "You Must Love Me" - a song which has now been incorporated into the score for the 2012 Broadway revival; appropriately so. A stunner. Lloyd Webber and Rice went on to win the Oscar for the song and you can view the live Oscar performance below.
Now, moving to 2006, see a snippet of the West End revival that the 2012 Broadway revival was modeled upon - Elena Roger leads "Hello And Goodbye" leading into The Mistress - Lorna Want - singing the score standout featured character number, "Another Suitcase In Another Hall".
See the curtain call of the 2012 revival below. What roars! It sort of brings to mind a certain wildly cheering crowd of worshippers at the Casa Rosada fifty years or so ago, no?
Lastly, check out the commercial for the 2012 revival. Don't miss it!
So, who, in your estimation, has been the tip-top Eva Duarte Peron to date - Julie Covington, Elaine Paige, Patti LuPone, Madonna or Elena Roger? What about your favorite Che - Colm Wilkinson, David Essex, Mandy Patinkin, Antonio Banderas or Ricky Martin? With an assortment of talent as rich and diverse as those ten performers, it should come as no surprise that EVITA has the impossibly gilded legacy of stars that it does - the 2012 revival a foremost example of the pull that this show has on not only the actors who perform it, but the audiences lucky enough to experience it, as well. Have I said too much? There's nothing more I can think of to say to you - all you have to do is look at these clips to know that every word of praise and pontification is true.