Michael Grandage's bombastic revival of the bombastic musical about Eva Peron isn't helped by the uneven performances of stars Elena Roger and Ricky Martin.
As it happens, the leading lady -- who is reprising the role of former Argentine first lady Eva Duarte de Peron, which she played to acclaim in Grandage's 2006 London production -- could be singing about herself. What she brings to the enterprise is indeed just a little touch of star quality, where a tremendous amount is what's called for.
The Argentinian-born Roger's earliest training was as a dancer, and in the early-in-show Buenos Aires routine that Rob Ashford has choreographed with tango references, she shows her greatest strength.
She also delivers the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice anthem "Don't Cry for Me Argentina", early in Act II, with slow and effective deliberation -- although its underlying point may not entirely land that at every word Evita utters she's lying to her adoring public.
However, during the rest of the tuner, Roger displays severe vocal problems, particularly in the fast-paced numbers and when she's in her upper register. Roger is often flat and shrill and has trouble enunciating some of the words (due in part to her actual Argentine accent).
Less of a drawback is that the 37-year-old performer is starting to look a bit matronly to portray a woman who began her climb to the top as a teenager and succumbed to cancer when she was 33. Richard Mawbey's wigs, looking like dangerous weights, don't help either, although set and costume designer Christopher Oram's wardrobe is right on the money.Another drawback -- although definitely not at the box office -- is Ricky Martin as an "everyman" Che, garbed in a sort of gaucho get-up. The pop star brings spirit to his interpretation -- and joins Roger in a steamy second-act tango -- but his substituting constant gestures and wide grins as the way to impersonate the omniscient narrator mocking Evita's machinations obscures the impressively cynical Rice-Lloyd Webber premise.
The most significant reason to see Evita is the reliable Michael Cerveris as Juan Peron. Since he can act with depth -- and sing on key -- he commands much attention whenever he's on stage. The only thing hampering him is that this Juan Peron is hardly the complex man the real Peron was. Instead, he's little more than a gullible cipher for Eva's questionable charms.
Finally, there are Lloyd Webber's varied and indelible melodies. Conducted with muscle by Kristen Blodgette, they may sound even better than they ever have before. Indeed, Lloyd Webber has often been accused of working too closely under the influence of Giacomo Puccini, but listening to this Evita, even his detractors must admit he has at least learned well at the knees of his predecessors.