I’ve never seen Evita before, and, apart from the unavoidable familiarity with the signature tune, I was unfamiliar with the music until I saw Stratford’s current production Saturday. My prior experience with Andrew Lloyd Webber has not been particularly felicitous – I was scarred by Cats at an early age – and I went to see Evita mostly because I was seeing everything else and wanted to complete the season and because I think Chilina Kennedy is a really formidable talent and wanted to see what she did.
Well, I was both pleasantly surprised and mildly disappointed. What I was pleasantly surprised by was the score, which was cohesive and generally tuneful. The program compared the show to a concept album, and that’s an analogy that made a great deal of sense to me listening to the show. Indeed, the more I thought of Evita as a kind of album-length music video, the better it seemed – not as inventive as the movie “Tommy,” but less oppressively obvious than “The Wall.” I was also pleasantly surprised by Josh Young, who was superb as Che, the narrator/commentator, singing clearly and beautifully and, more, making this glib cartoon into a character with some actual pathos. What I was mildly disappointed by were the set and the lead. The set is quite sterile and industrial, all steel girders, and did not evoke Argentina for me in any way. And as for Ms. Kennedy, her voice is superb, but the show all too often asks her to scratch her opponents’ eyes out with it rather than use it to seduce us. And there’s virtually no dancing, and what little there is Ms. Kennedy barely gets to participate in. And, most important, while she showed me how much she wanted to escape from her apparent destiny, how badly she wanted “it” – while never knowing exactly what “it” ultimately was, whether “it” was something she’d already grasped – she never showed me what it was about her that everybody else wanted so badly.
What didn’t surprise me at all was what the show essentially is, which is a politically stupid biopic with no particular insight into the central character, written with painfully on-the-nose lyrics and without the slightest trace of a sense of humor. Obviously, a great percentage of the theatre-going public doesn’t agree with me, or doesn’t care, because it enjoys being overwhelmed by the spectacle. Notwithstanding the ostensible subject matter of this seminal rock musical, I can’t bring myself to call that ironic.
if you want to see an interesting meditation on the interrelation in the modern world between celebrity and politics, rent The Queen, about Queen Elizabeth II, Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the crisis engendered by the death of Princess Diana. But if you don’t take it at all as seriously as it takes itself, there are certainly pleasures to be had at Evita.