With the success of the film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Evita and its soundtrack (Warner Bros. Records), a discussion of some of the English-language recordings of the stage musical seemed appropriate.
Evita started life as a concept album and starred Julie Covington as Eva and C.T. (Colm) Wilkinson as Che. The current movie version is most similar to this original recording, restoring a revised "The Lady's Got Potential," which was dropped from the stage version. The concept album (MCA Records) also has more of a rock feel than the stage score, and Covington's Eva has a pure, vibratoless sound that can be soft and seductive or penetratingly brassy.
When Covington declined the chance to create the role onstage, a then relatively unknown actress, Elaine Paige, was chosen to play Eva in the West End, and pop star David Essex undertook the role of Che. Listening to Paige sing "Buenos Aires," one hears a determined, joyous Eva ready to conquer the city, and hearing her rousing rendition of "Rainbow High," one realizes why she has become the Queen of London's musical theatre. This initial staging spawned a highlights recording, now available on one CD from MCA Records.
Prior to its Broadway opening, the U.S. cast of Evita debuted the show in Los Angeles. While in L.A. the company Patti LuPone/Eva, Mandy Patinkin/ Che and Bob Gunton/Peron recorded a double album, now available on two CDs from MCA. The score to Evita is a rangy, demanding one that requires an actress with a high belt, and probably no one's voice ever fit the role as well as LuPone's. She easily scaled the heights of the high portions of "A New Argentina" and her rendition of the show's anthem, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," remains unbeatable.
Florence Lacey hold the record for having performed the role of Eva more than any other actress. On her highlights recording (Polydor), Lacey brings her steely-edged voice and powerhouse delivery to the part and sings an exciting "I'd Be Surprisingly Good for You," belting many of the lines that most of the Evas deliver in softer tones. Her voice is one of the more unique sounds around, and she hints at nearly exploding when she tells the crowds, "I have taken these riches from the oligarchs for you/only for you..." Lacey also triumphs on "Rainbow High," and her "speeches" in "A New Argentina" are chilling.
Marti Webb, who occasionally still plays the role, was Paige's first replacement in London. A few years ago, Webb released an album entitled Marti Webb/Music & Songs from Evita and recorded many of Eva's signature tunes, including a playful "Buenos Aires" (Pickwick).
After a brief run last season as part of City Center's Encores! series, the acclaimed production of Chicago moved to Broadway and has become of this season's hottest tickets. RCA Victor has recently released the recording of this version of Chicago, headed by Bebe Neuwirth, Ann Reinking, James Naughton and Joel Grey. The recording, like the revival at the Shubert Theatre, sparkles, thanks to great performances from the stellar cast. It's a credit to Kander and Ebb's wonderful score that the CD comes to life even without Ann Reinking's imaginative, Bob Fosse-styled choreography. The score includes one showstopper after another, so it's hard to choose a favorite, but highlights include Bebe Neuwirth and company in a roof-raising version of "All That Jazz," "Cell Block Tango" and Neuwirth and Marcia Lewis in the comical "Class."
-- By Andrew Gans