I had my doubts about Evita. I had never really connected with the score, save for a few numbers, but Michael Grandage's production at the Marquis took me by surprise. In the moment, the show was like any other. It was an enjoyable evening-if you can call a glorified funeral enjoyable-but nothing out of the ordinary.
But Eva stayed with me...for weeks. I couldn't get the score out of my head. She remained in my mind and I continued to wrestle with who this woman really was. Cinderella? A rags to riches story? A con artist? A Nazi sympathizer?
"The choice was mine and mine completely." That is the one line that haunts me above all others. What choice? Does she regret her social climbing ways? Does she regret sleeping her way to the top? Does she regret spending millions on diamonds on furs while her descamisados starved? Does she regret seducing a nation? I doubt it-not even for a second.
Beyond the character of Evita, I've struggled to process Elena Roger's portrayal of Eva. I have been listening to Patti LuPone for as long as I can remember-and nobody is Patti-so that was my first mistake. I had too many preconceived notions of how Eva should be played, and that clouded my judgement. I found Elena's voice shrill, nasal, and weak. When she went into head voice in Buenos Aires I was done with her. I wanted belting because that's what Patti did. I also didn't find her Act I Eva believable because she seemed too experienced. She didn't have that wide-eyed look of awe that an aspiring actress should have when she arrives in the big city. But, by the time we got to A New Argentina I was buying her performance hook, line, and sinker. She wasn't playing the role of Eva, she was becoming Eva. Honest to God I felt like I was watching and listening to the real Evita. Her feeble voice turned out to be perfect for the late Act II Eva. The weakness was evident. She sounded like someone who had really been through it. Eva was dying of cancer-betrayed by her own weak body-and Elena plays that perfectly. Now all these wonderful nuances that I noticed in Ms. Roger's performance-I didn't appreciate them until I saw the show a second time this week with the alternate Eva.
Christina DeCicco had me hooked from the moment she revealed herself at the end of Requiem. Her doe-eyed look and exuberance were perfect for the young Act I Eva. Her Buenos Aires was thrilling and her vocal power was evident. The excitement and joy of a young woman on her first trip to the Big Apple was palpable. But as her Eva transitioned from a teenager to a sex symbol, I couldn't help feeling like I was watching a Disney princess. She's known for playing Glinda in Wicked and that was apparent. She is simply too likable to play this highly polarizing figure. I so wanted her to become grittier, feistier, but it never happened. She started to lose me in I'd Be Surprisingly Good For You which was where Elena started to grab me. She was simply too young and too naive to play a woman who had experienced so much. She pulls you back when she starts to get sick. Her acting is almost enough to fool you into thinking she has become frail...but not quite. She is still just a little too healthy and a little too happy to be believable as a cancer-ridden woman bearing the weight of a nation on her shoulders.
I like to think I am a high brow musical theatre snob. I revere Stephen Sondheim and shun Andrew Lloyd Webber, but I couldn't help but fall in love with this piece. I'll never admit that I enjoy Andrew Lloyd Webber in certain circles, but this score is simply remarkable. It is nuanced, flavorful, and layered with a very smart use of leitmotif.
Yes, Evita the show, but mostly Evita the woman, has gotten under my skin. I think about her often-I can't shake her. Eva said it herself when she promised to never leave me. It's fun to dismiss someone like that as power-hungry and opportunistic, but wouldn't we all have done the same thing given the circumstances. What would you do for the love of millions? As Che asks us in Act II, "Why try to govern a country when you can become a saint?"