When "Evita" first came from London to Broadway in 1979, there was much outrage about the glamorization of fascist Argentine dictators in a song-and dance musical. How quaint that sounds now.
Thirty-three years, countless global productions and a Madonna movie later, arguably the best -- and definitely the last -- work by the young team of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice has arrived in its first Broadway revival. The musical is more of a chestnut than a scandal now, and the glorification of dubious celebrity actually drives much of our culture.
And yet, I've always had a soft spot for the toughness of the show, which has arrived -- again from London -- with most of its bold profile and all its brutal, angular, stratospheric vocal demands intact. Director Michael Grandage's dark, stately staging has more surprising heart and more Latin authenticity than what I still fondly recall from Harold Prince's vibrant, chilling poster-art original.
This time we have a fierce dynamo of a Broadway debut by Elena Roger as Eva, the ambitious street girl with a contradictory fondness for finery, Mussolini and the poor, and who slept her way to superstar first lady before dying of cancer at 33. Roger, despite a few frayed top notes at Tuesday's preview, is a justly celebrated Argentine native whose sprite of a dancer's body belies a massive theatrical presence and the steely heft of her tangy voice. (Christina DeCicco plays the strenuous role on Wednesday nights and Saturday matinees.)
But you want to hear about Ricky Martin, right? OK, the pop star is very dashing and genial, though without a distinctive vocal color to chase away memories of Mandy Patinkin's Che. Also, it is hard not to be annoyed at the cop-out decision to drop the character's revolutionary last name and, with it, the cigar and the beret and the levels of bite from the commentary delivered Zelig-like as the play's Everyman.
For bite, we get the sweeping, rousing, deep-dish choreography by Rob Ashford, who finds the unsettling connections between the eroticism of the Latin dance rhythms and the terror of military boots. The plot may gloss over the suffering of the oppressed, but the dance keeps it moving.
WHERE Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway
INFO $67-$142; 800-745-3000; evitaonbroadway.com
BOTTOM LINE Fierce new Eva Perón seduces again.