For the second time in two weeks, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice took to the stage of a New York theatre and welcomed one of their first-borns back to Broadway — Jesus Christ Superstar (1971) at the Neil Simon on March 22 and Evita (1979) at the Marriott Marquis on April 5.
Then, if you can factor in the long-running hits they did with other writers — Rice's The Lion King (1997) at the Minskoff, and Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera (1988) still at the Majestic — this new addition gives them the rarefied distinction of having three shows running simultaneously on Broadway.
But that highly elite club will soon need an annex. Coming up fast on the outside is an American upstart and occasional Rice collaborator, Alan Menken, who arrives on the last day of the season with his Leap of Faith joining his Newsies: The Musical from this season and his Sister Act from last.
It's nice to make history with history, even this fanciful facsimile of how Maria Eva Duarte went from whore to madonna, from backstreet to sainthood, in 33 years — the same time allowed Jesus Christ Superstar, come to think of it.
It's a complicated and politically complex cavalcade, which Lloyd Webber and Rice ride over — practically gallop over — with a strong musical line. One may have forgotten what a strong score it is, but put out to pasture for a while, the songs spring back more vivid than you remember, coming at you like Oklahoma! — well, not quite, but certainly old friends: "High Flying, Adored," "A New Argentina," "I'd Be Surprisingly Good for You," "Buenos Aires" and, late-arriving from the film version, the aching, heart-breaking Oscar-winning "You Must Love Me."
Two of the best songs are given to subsidiary characters, who are promptly and rather unceremoniously dismissed from the show, once Eva (Elena Roger) meets — after quite a rompish ronde up the social ladder — Juan Peron (Michael Cerveris): The transporting "On This Night of a Thousand Stars" is used to introduce her tango-singing Square One, Magaldi (Max von Essen), and the haunting "Another Suitcase in Another Hall" is sung by Peron's Mistress (Rachel Potter) on her way out of his life.
Running alongside the chaotic storyline is a character called Che, which happens to be Spanish colloquial slang for "mate," "pal," "dude." In the original Broadway production, director Harold Prince made that read "Che Guevara" and had a Tony-winning Mandy Patinkin swagger around the stage in a beard and battle-fatigues. In this reading, Che is stuck with a mustache, Henley nightshirt and suspenders, a man of the people played by Ricky Martin.
"Of course, ever since the movie, he hasn't been Che Guevara, and he wasn't Che Guevara in my 2006 production in London," pointed out Michael Grandage, who has remounted the show on these shores. "Che is an Everyman figure. It's exactly what Tim and Andrew wrote and it's what they've gotten back ever since the Alan Parker movie and the 2006 production. And here we are in 2012, with this figure who is in every scene as Everyman. What it is, is less restricting than Che Guevara. If you're just Che Guevara, you're Che Guevara in every scene, but in this you can come on with a different point of view and be able to reflect the intention of where you are in each individual scene. It's actually a wonderful and helpful device."
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