Disclosure: I busted my ass to get from a TV appearance to Evita but got there moments late. I had to watch the first 15 minutes on a monitor in the lobby, then was allowed in to my seat.
And it was worth the ass-busting.
I always thought the highly conceptualized 1979 Harold Prince-directed production with a fiery Patti LuPone as the Argentinian first lady could never be rivaled, but this one does well on its own terms.
Directed by Michael Grandage and majestically designed by Christopher Oram, it’s a fast-moving, atmospheric version of the sung-through musical about the manipulative rising star of Argentinian politics, in all her well-coiffed contradictions.
Ricky Martin is the everyman narrator, Che, and he doesn’t approach the role as angrily as the original, Mandy Patinkin, going for a more bemused, lightly mocking quality.
Though he comes from the Jude Law school of arm gestures (usually with his left arm), Martin sings like a lark and has an appealing stage presence. He definitely has a future off the charts!
As Evita, Elena Roger — an Argentinian performer who’s won acclaim in the West End — is a pint-sized, seemingly squeaky celebutante, quite believable as the woman who rose to glory as she climbed the ladder to a game of musical chairs.
Roger dances like a dervish, is a good singer (except for some occasional high notes), and fearlessly goes to the dark side when throwing the belongings of Juan Perón’s mistress off the balcony or when glaring at anyone who doesn’t give her husband (Michael Cerveris) his proper respect.
And she acts the cojones out of “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” giving it passages of defiance and certitude rather than just making it a weepy apologia.
While substituting professionalism for star power, Roger provides some “wow” moments that make your Christian Dior collar stand up.
The show itself is borderline kitsch, as always — especially in a deathbed medley of reprises — and the second half isn’t as potent as the whirring madness of the first, but it’s best when served with conviction, like this production, which treats it as if it were Shakespeare.
It caps off a good season for Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, whose Jesus Christ Superstar has also been resurrected as a reminder of the days when they could pack a sad, iconic saga with sumptuous songs.
So while Broadway’s original Evita was more innovative and starry, this one has a bracing intimacy and vigor that makes you feel the truth is, she never left you.