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Fern Siegel

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Stage Door: Evita

Posted: 04/11/2012 1:32 pm

Evita Peron knew something about the dangerous mix of politics and celebrity. Her power grab is based on spectacle -- "They need to adore me/so Christian Dior me." And they do. Alongside husband Juan Peron, the glamorous Eva ruled Argentina. But in theatrical terms, the Broadway revival of Evita at the Marquis Theater may have star power, in the guise of Ricky Martin and Broadway vet Michael Cerveris, but it lacks sizzle.

Now at the Marquis Theater, Evita (Elena Roger, a star in her native Argentina) plays the calculating Eva Peron, who served as First Lady of Argentina from 1946 until her death in 1952. And while she makes a terrific effort, her singing is at times shrill; Roger doesn't project the charisma the role requires.

Similarly, Martin as the everyman narrator Che, sports an infectious grin, singing and dancing well, but without the raw, emotional thrust that acts as the counterpoint to Eva's overarching ego. "Don't Cry For Me Argentina," the indelible Andrew Lloyd Webber melody, is actually a fatuous anthem of misplaced narcissism.

The strongest musical lead, Cerveris as Juan Peron, is portrayed here as a mere conduit to her ambitions; the real Peron was far more complex.

Eva Peron scandalized Argentine society -- a poor woman who rose to became a radio star -- before marrying Peron. At a time when entertainers did not mix in politics, her participation in political life was seen by many in the government as suspect. (And, ironically, prescient by today's standards.) Her legacy and mythology, still powerful in her country, are mixed.

She promoted both personal aggrandizement and much-needed aid -- handing out money, supporting labor unions and lavishing attention on the "shirtless ones" through her foundation -- while the couple secreted funds to a Swiss bank account.

The musical presents a contradictory image of Eva Peron -- the woman who used sex to further her career, and the populist who claimed to fight for the masses, encapsulated in the song "Santa Evita." The mother/whore scenario explains the reception Peron got from the lower/upper classes. Yet despite its flaws, judging from the audience reception, the show hits a receptive chord.

That because the Evita score is catchy -- and the costumes (Christopher Oram) and lighting (Neil Austin) beautifully rendered. Rob Ashford's choreography is equally fluid and dramatic. In fairness, Roger shines as a dancer. Whatever missteps, this revival of the 30-year-old Webber-Tim Rice production is stylishly directed by Michael Grandage.