Welcome to a new series I call “Let Me Tell You What I Like About…” The premise is basic. I am going to write about the things I LIKE about a Broadway show. I see a lot of shows, and in this era of the snarky armchair critics that haunt the Broadway message boards, a moment of “Hey, you know what I thought was cool” isn’t a bad idea.
On top of that, I want to continue our conversation about the ins and outs of a Broadway show, but this time, talk about a real Broadway show, not just a television show that’s about a Broadway show. Are you all with me? Instead of doing fact or fiction, we’re doing:
Let Me Tell You What I Liked About….
Let’s start with a quick history of Evita to catch up those of you who might not eat, sleep and breathe musical theater history the way some people do–and by “some people” I mean my husband Rob Meffe, who just so happens to be a professor of musical theater history and repertoire for Pace University’s musical theater program.
Rob says I always drag him into my projects (in fact, as I type this sentence he is recording music for a show I am directing), so let this series not be an exception to that rule.
And now, direct from the piano, Mr. Rob Meffe.
Thank you Professor Meffe. If you were in his class, following his lecture you would have to perform songs from the era he is currently teaching (this lecture would be a part of “British Mega Musicals”, so you would probably be assigned “Memory” or “On My Own”. You should hum along as you continue reading).
What I Liked #1: Opening night.
Okay, look, I won’t beat around the bush here. My husband was on the music staff during rehearsals of the show, so we were invited to the ritzy, glitzy opening. Who isn’t going to like that? It was a free show and free food and drinks. You had me at hello. I’ve only attended one other opening night performance on Broadway, and it was for the musical Rosie O’Donnell produced called Taboo. What do I remember best? Free make up stations set up by MAC cosmetics, where you could go and “Boy George” yourself (he was the star of the show), or even get your hand entirely covered in thick silver glitter like a glove. Also, they had a featured drink called a “Taboo-tini”. I recall lying on the bathroom floor later on that evening.
Evita was a different kind of opening night–not so much cheering (it isn’t that kind of show….I mean…she dies. Sorry if I spoiled it for you, but also…you might need to brush up on your history a teensy bit if that came as a shocker.). There wasn’t a signature drink, although there was plenty of alcohol and Argentinian food. Rob and I walked around and felt somewhere between awkward and part of the crowd. This is a normal balance if you weren’t heavily involved in the creating of the show.
What I Liked #2: Buenos Aires (not the city, I’ve never been there, but the musical number.)
Allow me to explain.
First of all I should have a giant chip on my shoulder about this number because Rob Ashford was the choreographer, and it was hard and I know that first hand because I had a final callback for this show and was eliminated because I couldn’t dance it. True story. So you know it had to be good to win me over, and it was. Especially good and pretty unusual as far as Eva Perons go, Elena Roger is a dancing dream, and those boys whip her around the stage like she is about to be crowned Miss Dance Buenos Aires. It is thrilling. And it isn’t just her. Everyone dances, including (and I love this so much) George Lee Andrews, who at 68-years-young is keeping up and giving you some acting as he dances. You might recognize George’s name because he is (fun fact) the Guiness World Record Holder for the most performances in the same Broadway show for his 23 year long run in The Phantom of the Opera. In August, George was replaced in Phantom (fun fact: by his son-in law. No, I’m not kidding) and then defied odds by turning around and immediately being cast in Evita (which was originally directed by Hal Prince–the very same guy who directed Phantom. For the record, Mr. Prince fought hard to keep George in Phantom, but as happens, producers sometimes override even Hal Prince. Mr. Prince is not the director of the new Evita–Michael Grandage is, but still–I love how small the business is.) So the point is this: if you go see Evita look for George Lee Andrews and be impressed. That dancing isn’t easy (says the woman who couldn’t do it).
What I Liked #3: The relationship between Evita and Juan Peron.
I’ve done Evita twice, and seen it numerous times, and I’ve got to tell you, the relationship between the Perons is very special in this production. I’ve always thought of it as a marriage of convenience–a ploy to get to politically hungry people farther, but as played by the intense and incredible Michael Cerveris and Elena Roger, this production of Evita was a love story, and I liked it. Notice how Michael smells Elana’s neck when he puts a new necklace on her. Watch how they touch even as they conspire. Terrific. I also liked the marriage ceremony during “A New Argentina”, effective in reminding you that love or no love, this marriage is all about power.
What I liked #4: Kristen Blodgette
The conductor is a woman, and my friend. When she was announced at the top of the show, she drew some cheers from the balcony and someone behind me said, “Oh good for her.” Conducting and musical direction is a field thick with men, and that Kristen has stayed in the game for so long and at such a high level is a real testament to her talent and her temperament. As her daughter Emma said at the party, “I was glad they cheered for a woman conductor, but I’m also like, well okay, but Mom has been working for ever. This shouldn’t seem like such a big deal.” Exactly. But still, we will celebrate her. Let’s also celebrate her kind and patient husband Larry, who gave me the idea for this series at the opening night party. Cheers, Lars.
What I Liked #5: The Casa Rosada Scene.
This is the famous “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” scene, and I have to tell you that if you aren’t playing Eva, this scene is a total snore. You have to face upstage and sing “PERON, PERON, PERON” about 5,329 times, and then sing “Evita, Evita, Evita.” another 6,392 times….all while facing upstage. Facing upstage in a show is a whole pain in and of itself beause you tend to get a lot of notes about “back acting”….meaning that you have to look engaged in the scene even from the back. I’m not kidding. I’ll come over and give you lessons–I am a master after all the productions of Evita and Les Miserables I’ve done (Les Miz’s back acting is for most of the second act and happens on the barricade.)
Wow. That was a lot of negative, and here I am trying to tell you what I liked. This is harder than it seems! Okay–what I LIKED about THIS Casa Rosada scene. First of all–let’s get it out of the way–her dress is to die for. Second of all, the balcony comes out as she starts to sing (the set is beautiful). As my friend Jacob said, “When that balcony came out I thought, that’s Broadway, kids.” Third of all, listen to how she sings the following line (don’t kill me, I am doing this from memory, so I will probably get punctuation wrong):
“And as for fortune, and as for fame. I never invited them in. Though it seemed to the world they were all I desired. They are illusions. They are not the solutions they promised to be. The answers were here all the time. I love you and hope you love me….”
Generally speaking in the numerous productions I’ve seen and been a part of, the Eva backs off of this lyric and sings it apologetically. There is a note in the score that says something like “Eva breaks down in tears” at the end of it. I think most women choose to start the manipulation of the crowd at the top of this lyric, but Ms. Rogers sang it with such conviction and so u-apologetically–she was simply stating a fact–that she drew me right in. As an actress there is nothing better than knowing s show like the back of your hand, thinking to yourself, there is NO WAY that anyone could surprise me with a new line reading. I’ve seen them all. And then it happens. It’s a thrill. There were many of these moments in the show and so, more than anything else: what did I like about Evita? Ms. Roger’s stellar acting choices.
Evita is playing at the Marriot Marquis Theater. It is the first revival of this show. Go see it.
(To read another “Let Me Tell You What I Liked About…” go here)