DIVA TALK: Evita! Evita!

DIVA TALK: Evita! Evita! Well, 18 years and a slew of proposed leading ladies later, Evita, the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical that made stage stars of Elaine Paige and Patti LuPone, has finally reached the screen in an epic production from Hollywood Pictures and director Alan Parker (who shares a screenplay credit with Oliver Stone).
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Well, 18 years and a slew of proposed leading ladies later, Evita, the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical that made stage stars of Elaine Paige and Patti LuPone, has finally reached the screen in an epic production from Hollywood Pictures and director Alan Parker (who shares a screenplay credit with Oliver Stone).

Evita was the musical that created a whole new generation of theatre fans, myself included, and we Evitaphiles have been waiting years for the film version. Arguably Webber's best score, Evita boasts one wonderful song after the next: "Oh What a Circus," "Buenos Aires," "I'd Be Surprisingly Good for You," "Another Suitcase in Another Hall," "Dangerous Jade," "A New Argentina," "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," "High Flying Adored," "Rainbow High," "Waltz for Eva and Che" and others. So, how's the movie?

First, Parker does a mostly remarkable job adapting the movie from stage to screen. For me, the most enjoyable aspect of this movie-going experience was seeing how each scene translated from Harold Prince's inventive, award-winning staging to the screen. Although one doesn't experience the same euphoria felt when the mass of chorus members marched onstage carrying torches in the Act I finale of the musical or the sheer glory of hearing Patti LuPone send "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" soaring into the theatre, the movie does have thrills of its own. In fact, throughout the movie, Parker relies heavily on spectacle--huge crowd scenes with thousands of Argentineans chanting, marching or weeping. The end result is impressive if not always moving. In fact, at times it's a bit bothersome to cut away from the lead performers, especially in "Don't Cry for Me Argentina." Why the camera isn't focused solely on Madonna's Eva in that scene is a bit mysterious.

Some of Parker's most clever additions include a flashback to the funeral of Eva Duarte's father, a scarring event in Eva's childhood that left her resentful of the middle class and was only briefly mentioned in the musical; a seductive car ride between Peron and Eva, where Eva insists, "I'd Be Surprisingly Good for You"; and the restoration of "The Lady's Got Potential" from the concept album, which becomes one of the most exciting scenes in the film.

As Eva Peron, "spiritual leader of the nation," Madonna holds her own in the film, at her best in the touching deathbed scene near the film's end and also in the erotic tango with Che in "Waltz for Eva and Che."

The film could, however, have used a bit more fire in this Eva. When you watch the black and white clips of Eva Peron speaking to the public, she was, if anything, filled with emotion and energy. Madonna is almost too subtle in her interpretation. She seems to want to portray Eva as saintly as possible, but in doing so she misses much of the drive that enabled this woman to rise from an impoverished child to the First Lady of a country by the time she was 30.

The revelation of the film, however, is Antonio Banderas's Che, the film's narrator. Although still listed as "Che," he is not seen in army fatigues as in the musical, but appears throughout the film in different get-ups--as a waiter, a bartender. . . Banderas brings a fiery presence to the screen and a strong, rock-flavored voice that keeps the film going. Jonathan Pryce delivers his usual rock-solid performance.

Overall, the film is highly enjoyable, if not the transcendent experience one may have hoped it would be. At times it is a bit slow moving, particularly in the final half-hour, but it is still quite amazing that the musical has reached the silver screen at all, and it is definitely a must-see for musical theatre and diva fans alike.

That's all for now. Happy holidays and happy diva-watching!

-- By Andrew Gans
e-mail me at andrew_gans@playbill.com