In the late seventies, Evita made stars out of its two original leading ladies — Elaine Paige in London and Patti LuPone on Broadway — while helping launch or solidify the careers of such future Evas as Marti Webb, Florence Lacey and the late Stephanie Lawrence. Earlier this year, a relatively unknown actress-singer-dancer by the name of Elena Roger landed the title role in the first major West End revival of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical, which officially opened at the Adelphi Theatre June 21. In what may be a career-making performance, Roger — who was born and raised in Argentina — garnered rave reviews from the critics, who also applauded director Michael Grandage's new production. In fact, Roger could not have penned better reviews herself. In The Telegraph Charles Spencer said, "Elena Roger's tiny and apparently frail Evita dominates the stage with tremendous presence, a wonderfully expressive mouth and eyes and a strong, sometimes rough-edged voice. In short she has exactly the star quality the role requires." And, Paul Taylor in The Independent wrote, "The piece not only survives but thrives on the violent eruption of reality that comes in the diminutive shape of Elena Roger. As she charts the anti-heroine's progress from trashy opportunist to second wife (and First Lady) of the fascist Juan Peron and then to folk saint, Roger is simply sensational." Via e-mail I recently chatted with London's newest Evita; that brief interview follows.
Question: Before this role came about, what were your thoughts and impressions of Eva Peron?
Elena Roger: This is not the first time I [have] come across this role. Four years ago, a well known Argentinean composer, Alberto Favero, asked me to play Eva in a musical he wrote a long time ago. Unfortunately, the project did not go ahead in the end. But when this opportunity came up, I revisited my research about Eva’s life and although there are a lot of grey areas, I totally admire her love and dedication for the humble people, also her strength to battle against the establishment at a time where women didn’t have a say in the Argentinean society.
Q: When did you first hear that there was going to be a major revival of Evita? Was this a part you had always wanted to play?
Roger: The first time I heard was through my Argentinean friend Ana Moll, who happened to work for the production company (Really Useful Group). Although the role is so amazing, it was never my goal to play it.
Q: Tell me about the audition process for the role. When did you find out you had won the role? What was your initial response to hearing that news?
Roger: I sent a DVD to show my work, and they allowed me to come for an audition. I flew to London three times, between September 2005 and January 2006. In my last trip, after the last audition, [director] Michael Grandage gave me the good news, and I only said, "Really??!" Q: Eva is probably one of the most vocally demanding roles in the musical theatre. How do you prepare for the role each night? How do you go about protecting your voice?
Roger: It is very hard to sing this role six times a week. [Like previous productions of Evita, an Eva alternate (Abbie Osman) plays the title role twice a week.] So I try not to be nervous or worry about that. I also try to sleep well and stand on my own two feet if you know what I mean! I also arrive two hours before the show starts to vocalize, and have plenty of time to prepare myself and concentrate well.
Q: Did you listen to any of the prior Evita recordings before learning the score yourself? If so, which version(s)?
Roger: I listened to Elaine Paige [the London cast recording], Julie Covington [the original concept recording] and "You Must Love Me" [performed] by Madonna [on the film's soundtrack].
Q: How do you think your Eva differs from the women who have played the role before you?
Roger: I think that we are all very different actresses, different human beings, and we are also being directed by different directors, which means that everything in each production is different. However, one thing that differentiates me from previous performers is that I am Argentinean and lived there all my life, so the Argentinean people are already "under my skin" as well as our history as a country.
Q: Much has been written about Rob Ashford's dazzling choreography. Are you a trained dancer? Do you enjoy the dancing sequences?
Roger: Oh! I love the dancing sequences of the show! Especially the tango ones. I like to tell stories through dancing and singing. I used to be a trained dancer, [but] I had to train again for this role.
Q: Tell me about working with director Michael Grandage. Were there any specific things he told you about playing Eva that stand out in your mind?
Roger: I loved working with him. It was a very rich process. We talked a lot, looked for every moment to be alive. He gave me confidence and lots of freedom. He trusted me — I trusted him. We had wonderful feedback. For some of the scenes where I struggled, he gave me clues that showed me the way, and those words are still very present in my mind.
Q: "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" has been performed by so many people. Was it at all intimidating when first approaching this song? How did you go about learning the song? What do you think Eva is trying to say in the song?
Roger: I always sing that song as my own. I say the words as though I’m doing a speech. This is Eva’s first direct contact with her people. She is trying to touch their hearts and somehow feels embarrassed to be "dressed up to the nines" in front of all of them.
Q: Do you have a favorite song in the show or a favorite moment in the show as Eva?
Roger: My favorite songs and moments vary depending on how I feel that day. I always find a new enjoyable moment.
Q: This new production includes the one song written for the Evita film, "You Must Love Me." How do you think the song helps the piece as a whole?
Roger: That song gives Eva another interesting moment where she can show her vulnerability. It shows the depth of the relationship between her and her husband, Juan Peron. It also shows how much she tries to hold on to life.
Q: There has been buzz that this production may come to New York. Have you heard any news about that? Would you like to play Broadway?
Roger: I [have] heard this little buzz but nothing confirmed. Of course, I would like to play Broadway!
Q: Tell me about your musical theatre background. Where did you train? What other musicals have you performed? Do you have a favorite show from your previous work? Any musicals you'd particularly like to perform one day?
Roger: I started training in different dance styles [when] I was 11. At the age of 15 I began my singing lessons, and once I became a professional performer, I dove into acting.
Nearly all my experience took place in Buenos Aires. I was part of the cast of the original production of Nine there, as well as Beauty and the Beast. I also played Fantine in Les Miserables, and Annette in Saturday Night Fever. There were also some other local productions like Houdini, La Fiaca and a musical that I devised with Valeria Ambrosio called Mina, che cosa se!, based on a very famous Italian diva. The musical won five awards from the critics, and it was my favorite show in Argentina. I would love to go back to that one day.
I also would love to star in Cabaret, Chicago and Sunset Boulevard (when I’m older!).
Q: How long are you contracted with Evita? What has this experience been like so far? Where would you like to see your career go from here?
Roger: I’m contracted with Evita for a whole year. So far, it’s been a very moving and exciting experience and regarding my career, I like to take [it] one day at a time and see what life has to offer.
[Evita — starring Elena Roger (as Eva), Philip Quast (as Peron) and Matt Rawle (as Che) — plays London's Adelphi Theatre. For tickets call 0870 895 5598.]
She received raves for her singing Norma Desmond in the London and Broadway productions of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard. Now, Betty Buckley will have a chance to perform the original screenplay in the Hollywood Bowl’s upcoming staged reading of Billy Wilder's film noir classic. Buckley, who was nominated for an Olivier Award for her performance as the deluded silent screen star, will be joined onstage at the Bowl by Douglas Sills as ill-fated screenwriter Joe Gillis, Len Cariou as Norma’s former husband and present butler Max von Mayerling and Jean Louisa Kelly as the naive, aspiring writer Betty Schaefer. The company will also boast Hal Sparks as Artie Green, Conrad John Schuck as Cecil B. DeMille, Tom McGowan as First AD, Ken Howard as Repo Man, Charles Durning as LA Captain, Fred Forrest as BH Captain, James Cromwell as Sheldrake, Bruce Davison as Morino, Ted Heyck as Jonsey, Tom Costello as Guard, Daisy Egan as Connie, Alan Johnson as Hog Eye, J. Todd Adams as Cop and Holland Taylor as Hedda Hopper. The Aug. 6 reading is set to begin at 7:30 PM and will feature Franz Waxman's Academy Award-winning "Sunset Blvd." score. The score will be performed by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra under the direction of John Mauceri. The "Sunset Blvd." screenplay was penned by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder and D.M. Marshman, Jr. David Rambo has adapted the script for the one-night-only event. The Hollywood Bowl is located at 2301 North Highland Avenue in Hollywood, CA. For ticket information call (323) 850-2000 or visit www.hollywoodbowl.org. Tony and Olivier Award winner Patti LuPone, who is currently appearing on Broadway in the acclaimed revival of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, will take part in four performances of a new work by Jake Heggie this fall. Heggie, who composed the opera Dead Man Walking with librettist Terrence McNally, has penned a "short lyric drama based on 'The Rape of Persephone,'" according to the composer's official website. Entitled To Hell and Back, the piece, which features a libretto by Gene Scheer, will make its premiere Nov. 2 at the First United Methodist Church in Palo Alto, CA. LuPone, who will soon be seen in the Ravinia Festival's staging of Gypsy, and soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian will be featured vocalists in To Hell and Back. Nicholas McGegan will conduct the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. Subsequent evenings of To Hell and Back will be presented at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco, CA (Nov. 3); and at the First Congregational Church in Berkeley, CA (Nov. 4 and 5). For additional information visit www.pattilupone.net or www.jakeheggie.com.
Elaine Stritch, who starred in Noel Coward's 1961 musical Sail Away, will revisit several Coward favorites in a new, untitled show that will open in December in London. Variety reported earlier this week that Howard Panter will produce a show featuring Coward's work for the Tony-winning actress. After its London bow, the show "built for and around" Stritch will make its way to Broadway.
Sarah Litzsinger (the current Belle of Broadway's Beauty and the Beast) and Kate Reinders (the latest Glinda in the New York company of Wicked) will join forces for a one-night-only concert at the Ars Nova. The two actresses, who promise to shred the term ingénue, will debut their new band TastiSkank Aug. 7 at the West 54th Street venue. Described as the "newborn love child of the Indigo Girls and Tenacious D," TastiSkank will offer songs about everything "from sex to pills to dirty boys who will remain nameless." Show time is 10 PM. The Ars Nova is located in Manhattan at 511 West 54th Street. Tickets, priced at $15, are available by calling (212) 868-4444 or by visiting www.smarttix.com.
And, finally, following acclaimed concert presentations of The Secret Garden, Children of Eden and Pippin, an all-star concert of Rags will be presented Dec. 11 to commemorate World AIDS Day. The 20th anniversary production of Rags — which will be held at the new Nokia Theater in Times Square — is being co-presented by artistic producer Jamie McGonnigal and The Joey DiPaolo AIDS Foundation. Altar Boyz' Stafford Arima will direct the one-night-only event, which will feature musical direction by Avenue Q’s Mark Hartman. Casting will be announced at a later date. Proceeds from the concert will benefit The Joey DiPaolo AIDS Foundation and Camp TLC (Teens Living with a Challenge), a residential summer camp program for teens living with HIV/AIDS. For additional information about JDAF/Camp TLC, visit www.jdaf.org. Rags tickets will go on sale in October. For sponsorship opportunities, e-mail RagsConcert@aol.com.
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to email@example.com.