Film Review: Evita - The musical returns - the best of Broadway hits the big screen
Directed by Alan Parker.
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Lyrics by Tim Rice.
Starring Madonna, Antonio Banderas, Jonathan Pryce, Jimmy Nail.By Teresa Huang
The long-awaited movie version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's award-winning musical Evita is a must-see for everyone. The film succeeds in reproducing the original musical with intensity and integrity. Madonna sparkles in the title role, showing that her talent is unlimited and constantly growing into new fields and depths, and Antonio Banderas surprises us with his musical talent in perhaps the finest role of his life.
Evita tells the story of Eva Duarte, an ambitious young actress who fell in love and married Juan Perón, becoming the first lady of Argentina as well as the most adored and remembered figure in the nation's history. An inspiring leader, Eva Perón permeated the common worker movement and even the feminist movement, acquiring the love and allegiance of all of Argentina. Supposedly, the people of Argentina loved her so much, they ignored her husband's injustices as president.
The original musical tells her story through Che, a cynical omniscient character who follows Evita's rise to fame. At the center of the story is the relationship between Evita and her husband Juan Perón. They support each other for their own purposes as well as for each other. Though Perón tries to care for her, she's too headstrong to return his sentiments, though to the end, she's faithful to him and to her cause of bringing him power and prestige.
In all the hype over Madonna, people lose sight of what's truly remarkable and noteworthy about Evita, namely the musical itself, one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's most successful endeavors. The original production of Evita opened in the United States in 1979, starring Patti LuPone (Life Goes On) in the title role and Mandy Patinkin (Dick Tracy, Chicago Hope) as Che. It was awarded the New York Critics Drama Circle award for Best Musical, as well as an astonishing seven Tony Awards, with honors going to Hal Prince's direction, Patti LuPone in the title role, Rice's lyrics, Lloyd Webber's score and the musical itself. Since its opening, Evita has run continually in productions around the world. By far the musical's best known number, "Don't Cry For Me Argentina," is one of the most recorded songs from a theatrical production of all time, with no fewer than 66 different versions to date.
Alan Parker's film version of Evita is powerful from the start, and though the blend of music and cinematography is awkward at first as the audience adjusts to the film's style, the screen eventually explodes in an astounding blend of sight and sound, especially engaging in the Casa Rosada scene. The use of flashbacks and montages is just one of the excellent ways in which Parker takes advantage of the potential of his medium to add depth and understanding to the musical. However, there were times when Evita tried too much to be a movie rather than a musical where the film visual didn't match the music well enough. "Buenos Aires" was particularly disappointing - for a number that is so completely upbeat and excited, the visual was drab.
Lloyd Webber's music is performed and jazzed up terrifically without losing faith to his original score. Though the songs may sound modernized, very little has been altered and they are actually quite true to his style. Many of Lloyd Webber's musicals have included rock music, such as his rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, and the brilliance of his Evita score is brought out in the film score. "Goodnight and Thank You" was particularly fantastic - the music was powerful and the scenes were done with excellent humor.
Also outstanding are two new additions to the musical, one of which is Che's tirade "The Lady's Got Potential," an upbeat solo sung with flare by Antonio Banderas. "You Must Love Me," the single released before the movie's release, is another new song whose poignant meaning becomes clear when viewed in the context of the movie. A beautiful addition to an already powerful score, it reveals Evita's vulnerable spirit despite her past strengths, showing her most honest confession in the film and perhaps in her life.
Doubts about Madonna's performance was at the heart of all the pre-release discussion, which may have been unnecessary since her portrayal of Eva Perón is amazing and almost flawless. Dressed in glamorous gowns and even a pair of brown contact lenses, she is elegant and striking as the first lady, and though she seems to lack confidence at first, her stage presence grows as Evita's popularity grows. Her invitations to Perón in "I'd Be Surprisingly Good for You" show her sultry side while being subtle and never overtly sexual. The film doesn't exploit what Madonna's infamous for, but rather allows her to set a new standard in her history as an entertainer. "A New Argentina" and "Rainbow High" are perhaps the best examples of how much her voice has grown and surpassed all of her past work. Through Evita, Madonna truly moves us with her energy and strength.
Just as stellar as Madonna was sexy man Antonio Banderas as Che, a performance which showed his amazing talent and versatility. Banderas's accusing eyes and fierceness fit the role of Che perfectly, which may be why an actor with more singing and theater experience wasn't cast in the role. We almost wish we saw more of Banderas singing in the movie since he's such a delight to watch. However, since his accent is so sharp and much of the story is told in his lyrics, some people unfamiliar with Evita may have gotten lost, though the visual component of film does an adequate job of continuing the story. One of his most remarkable moments in the movie is the "Waltz for Eva and Che," a complicated confrontation between Evita's idealism and Che's cynicism which was beautifully done with shifting settings, using film to its advantage.
Is Evita is a movie or a musical? It's both, and since we haven't seen movie musicals in a long time, Evita breaks new ground and sets a new standard quite successfully. The music is fantastic and the performances are excellent. Madonna has truly reached a higher level of stardom with this film, showing her stretch of talent as well as surprising us with depths we've never yet seen.
Critics keep talking about how Eva Perón's story matches Madonna's own rise to fame. Forget about all that. After experiencing Evita, you'll forget everything about her past. All you'll know is that she's giving all she can to the role of her life and she succeeds. Madonna may even no longer be known as the Material Girl, but rather now as Evita, the queen of the people and the silver screen. You must love her.