Evita – New Broadway Cast Recording

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s shows don’t do much for me. I’ve never really been taken in by his style, and I tend to approach his shows from a mostly academic perspective, pulling the albums from the shelves every year or so for a refresher. The one exception is Evita. The rock opera by Webber and Tim Rice, which made stars of Elaine Paige and Patti LuPone, fascinates me to no end. I think it’s the most musically and dramatically compelling score Webber has ever written for the theatre, with a riveting and often thrilling look at a larger than life and divisive political legend.

Evita is back on Broadway for the first time since the original production closed, in a transfer of the acclaimed 2006 London production directed by Michael Grandage and choreographed by Rob Ashford. I haven’t seen the new smash-hit production yet, but Masterworks Broadway was kind enough to send me the new 2-disc cast album, the first complete recording of the stage score since 1979. And I haven’t stopped listening since I removed the shrink wrap.

As Che, Ricky Martin sings very well but his characterization likes bite and frankly, he sounds as if he’s narrating a school project. Where his character should be filled with anger and dripping with venom, Martin only seems mildly annoyed by Eva’s antics. Perhaps Harold Prince was right in modeling the character after Che Guevara. The always-reliable Michael Cerveris makes Juan Peron, usually a thankless role, the show’s emotional center. Max von Essen is the best Magaldi I’ve ever heard, while Rachel Potter sings a gorgeous “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.”

As for Evita herself, there’s been a lot of controversy over the casting of the Argentinian actress Elena Roger, whose vocal performance has been almost as divisive as the late Argentine First Lady herself. While I obviously cannot offer an opinion on her live performance, I can compare and contrast her singing between the 2006 London album and this new recording. In the intervening years, Ms. Roger’s English and diction have greatly improved, and her singing is stronger and clearer. I suppose I am in a minority, but I love the way she sings the role. Ms. Roger sings Eva with a flexible, steely voice and I love what she puts into the words acting-wise.

The liner notes are filled with color photographs. There no plot synopsis, but director Grandage has written a short essay. The complete lyrics are included. The production has new orchestrations by Lloyd Webber and David Cullen, which are a mixed bag. In certain sections they soar, in others it sounds like karaoke backing tracks. Also: the production includes the Oscar-winning “You Must Love Me” from the 1996 film adaptation.

Ultimately, no matter your opinion of Roger, this is an Evita worth hearing and worth the discussion. Included is a bonus track of Roger singing ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” in Spanish which makes me long to see her in a Spanish language production.

If They Only Had a Brain

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

That’s what I’d like to say to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Warner Bros, who are respectively planning new stage and screen adaptations of the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz. Webber is preparing a new London production for 2011 starring Michael Crawford as the Wizard and a BBC contest winner as Dorothy. He and lyricist Tim Rice (instead of the previously announced Glenn Slater) will be interpolating five new songs alongside the Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg classics. Jeremy Sams is directing and supplying a brand new book for what is being billed as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s New Production of The Wizard of Oz.

Details have recently emerged in Variety about the upcoming production, which Sams promises to be different from the film. The new songs include a new opening number as well as “an old-fashioned 11 o’clock number for Glinda and a major second-act opener for the Wicked Witch and her Winkies.”  Ideally, I think Webber and Rice – whose last musical theatre collaboration was Evita – should just write a brand new show. I don’t think that Webber has had as strong a collaborator since. He goes on to say, “the closer you get to the original the more you’re faced with the question of, why are you doing this? Why not just give audiences the DVD?”

If they had guts they’d go back to L. Frank Baum’s original stories and come up with something entirely new and original. It would be interesting to see the team write a brand new show from the ground up. While it’s not a very strong show, The Wiz takes points for being its own adaptation and separate from that of the film. There will be a built-in audience for the show, but does it require new material? No. I can’t imagine that anything that Webber and Rice would write would match the quality of the brilliant original score. Personally, I would choose the DVD.

There are two stage versions of the film available for amateur/stock production from Tams-Witmark: the 1942 St. Louis Muny version and the 1988 Royal Shakespeare Company revision. The former has a simpler structure and requires less in terms of scenography (though the Wizard takes Dorothy back to Kansas on his rocket ship). The latter more closely follows the 1939 screenplay, and is a bit more of a spectacle. Both contain the film’s score, though the Muny edition contains a song I’ve never heard called “Evening Star.”

Incidentally, ten years ago this week I played the Cowardly Lion in my high school’s production of the RSC adaptation. The show is performed in two acts, with dialogue padded out a bit and some scenes extended. Most of the songs are given their original verses left unused in the film, while “If I Were King of the Forest” is given the button is doesn’t have in the film. “The Jitterbug,” famously cut from the film, is back in as the closest thing there is to an eleven o’clock number. Much of Herbert Stothart’s underscoring is reused. There is something to the recognition factor: it was the highest selling production in my high school’s history, all performances were sold to 125% capacity. Even after breaking the fire code, the box office was still forced to turn people away at the door.

Even more staggering to me was yesterday’s report from Deadline that Warner Bros was in talks with Robert Zemeckis to direct a remake of the original film using the original script. Remakes tend to suffer as a rule, but those that are slavishly like the original tend to be the worst (shot-by-shot remake of Psycho anyone?). Zemeckis’ reps are now saying the director is not going to be involved in the project, which is the best news of the day. The best action, I think, would be to just scrap the project altogether. Again, I’d rather just pop in the DVD of the original.

Our international obsession with The Wizard of Oz continues. Last year, there were sold out screenings of the film to celebrate its 70th anniversary. New DVD releases and a Blu-ray edition followed, only five years following the most recent special edition DVD. The songs, the lines and images are a part of our lexicon and abound in pop culture references. Gregory Maguire’s revisionist look at the story became the best-selling novel and musical theatre phenomenon Wicked. While the musical rakes in millions upon millions each week to sold out houses worldwide, Dreamworks is planning its film adaptation.

The animated feature Dorothy of Oz (based on Roger S. Baum’s book) with Lea Michele voicing the title character, is scheduled for a 2012 release. Meanwhile two other Oz related films are in the works. Disney’s Oz: The Great and Powerful is slated to be directed by Sam Raimi and tentatively star Robert Downey Jr as the Wizard in a prequel. Meanwhile Drew Barrymore has signed onto Surrender Dorothy, about Dorothy great-great granddaughter who is forced to take on the Wicked Witch.

But is that too much Oz on the marketplace, and will Oz over-saturate the market? That remains to be seen, but it is something that has crossed my mind. The original Baum books are extraordinary, and it’s interesting to see how they’ve been adapted over the years, from the 1903 musical version to the present. But to Webber and Warners, I say leave well enough alone.

“With One Look”

With the release of Patti LuPone’s memoir, there has been a resurgence in talk about Sunset Boulevard in the message board circuit. The musical of Billy Wilder’s legendary film noir classic was big news and big gossip fodder in the early 90s, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The show opened in London with Patti in the iconic role of Norma Desmond, played in the film by silent star Gloria Swanson (in the performance of her career). However, the reviews for the London run – particularly those of the American critics who flew over – were less than enthusiastic. Thus began a series of events that led to LuPone being replaced for the Broadway run by Glenn Close, who was in the Los Angeles company. Lloyd Webber claimed Paramount studios demanded a movie star in the role and well…you’ll have to read Patti’s book for her perspective on the matters.

The show itself became a vehicle for great female stars, with replacements as notable as the originals. This sort of event hadn’t really happened since the original productions of Hello, Dolly! and Mame in the mid to late 60s. Norma Desmond became a role that women wanted to play. LuPone and Close were both replaced by Betty Buckley. Other Normas in the West End included Petula Clark, Elaine Paige and Rita Moreno. Paige made her Broadway debut with this show, closing the NY production. Diahann Carroll opened Garth Drabinsky’s Toronto production. Many other actresses were interested in playing the role, but the show proved a financial disappointment and was not a juggernaut success like POTO. The set was enormous (and temperamental) with the grand staircase coming down from the flies, etc. It was visually stunning, but I don’t think overall it is a good adaptation of the material. There are some interesting songs, particularly the near-arias composed for Norma. (It’s a shame Sondheim didn’t write his version of it).

It’s not quite the Madame Rose argument, but there are many admirers and detractors of the various Normas who power-belted through the show in the mid-90s. Here are five of them:

Patti LuPone (in the original higher key):


Glenn Close:


Betty Buckley:


Elaine Paige:


Petula Clark:


The Andrew Lloyd Webber Love Trio

I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of the Andrew Lloyd Webber (some might recall my anecdote about being elbowed awake for snoring during Cats) but when PBS aired My Favorite Broadway: The Leading Ladies back in 1999 (that long ago already?!) I was very much taken with the “Andrew Lloyd Webber Love Trio,” taking three of the Lord’s ballads and putting them together. Audra McDonald sang “Love Changes Everything” from Aspects of Love, Marin Mazzie sang “Unexpected Song” from Song & Dance and Judy Kuhn delivered “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar before the three finished together in a showstopping counterpoint.

Oh! POTO 2?

The internet has been all abuzz with the new media campaign behind the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, or as we like to call here at Theatre Aficionado at Large, POTO. There is to be a major announcement (by the Phantom himself, no less) next month regarding the new musical. The show has been in gestation for some time, known as Phantom 2, Phantom in Manhattan and now (and presumably forever) known as Love Never Dies, which is poised to make its world debut in 2010.

Meanwhile, POTO continues to break its own record as the longest running show in Broadway history, and there are productions, tours, etc. going on all around the world. The show made headlines when Lloyd Webber’s beloved kitten accidentally erased the score from his clavinova (which I find circumspect – you don’t write down what you’ve written?). Anyway, the Really Useful group is gearing a mass media blitz to hype up this new show as the next big thing from the Lloyd Webber franchise. This Phantom is on twitter.

But I’d like to wax prosaic about musical sequels: they fail. I’m not saying that Love Never Dies is going to bomb. George M. Cohan’s The Talk of New York, a sequel to Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway, was a success back in 1907. More recently, William Finn has done quite well by his Marvin trilogy – In Trousers, March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland (the latter two combined for Broadway in Falsettos). However, I’m just saying the statistics are not in Lloyd Webber’s favor. Let’s take a look at a few musical sequels from over the years…

Let ‘Em Eat Cake – The Gershwin brothers crafted a follow-up to their 1931 Pulitzer Prize winning smash Of Thee I Sing. Figuring lightning would strike, the creative team and some of the original cast reunited with this decidedly darker satire on American government and politics. President Wintergreen has been defeated in his re-election campaign, so and his Vice President, Throttlebottom, plot a Fascist takeover of the United States to get back control. The show ran 89 performances at the Imperial in 1933.

Divorce Me Darling – Sandy Wilson had a monumental success with The Boy Friend, his 1954 musical spoof of the 1920s that played for five years in London and introduced Julie Andrews to Broadway. The show was such a success that in 1965, Wilson wrote a new musical that brought the same characters to the same location (Nice, France) ten years down the road, with relationships on the rocks. However, audiences in London didn’t seem to care what Polly, Tony and the gang were up to and the show closed after 91 performances.

Bring Back Birdie –
The curtain of the perennial favorite Bye Bye Birdie comes down on Albert and Rosie moving out West where he’s going to be the English teacher she’s always wanted him to be. Happily ever after, etc. In 1981, the creative team (with the exception of the late Gower Champion) was brought back together with director-choreographer Joe Layton at the helm, even returning to the Martin Beck Theatre where the original played. The failure was immense – the book was laughable and crass, the score unmemorable and the design was apparently quite hideous. Though original star Chita Rivera was back and giving it her all, her showstopping poise wasn’t enough to save the sinking ship around her. The musical closed after 4 performances. (Peter Filichia gives an in depth account of the disastrous first act of the very first preview here).

A Doll’s Life –
This sequel is unlike the rest listed here, because it was a musical sequel to a play. Henrik Ibsen’s play ends with the character Nora slamming the door on her domestic life, leaving her husband and family in an attempt to find her place in the world. That door slam, once regarded as “the door slam heard round the world,” pretty much told you everything you needed to know about the characters. However, Hal Prince, directed a highly conceptual musical that begins where the play leaves off. With music by Larry Grossman and the unusual choice of Comden and Green for book and score, the tuner looked at what happened to Nora after she leaves. A metatheatrical conceit and messy libretto didn’t help endear the character to audiences or critics and the show closed after 5 performances, though it features a fascinating musical score.

Annie 2 –
The musical Annie had taken Broadway and the world by storm in the late 1970s, running for 2377 performances and becoming “The musical of Tomorrow.” So naturally a sequel would be in order. Right? Of course, right. Well, Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge turned out to be a disaster. The show brought back Tony-winning Miss Hannigan Dorothy Loudon opposite Harve Presnell as Oliver Warbucks. This time around, Hannigan was out of jail and wanted to kill Annie. Meanwhile Marian Seldes was on hand as a Congresswoman who insisted Warbucks marry within 60 days, or Annie would be taken back to the orphanage. Hannigan posed as Charlotte O’Hara a southern belle, to gain Warbucks attentions. Later she became the prim Frances Riley and was given a morbid, if fun, showstopper “But You Go On.” The show closed out of town in Washington DC, and Loudon left the project. After substantial reworking at the Goodspeed, the wholly different Annie Warbucks opened off-Broadway for a 200 performance run.

The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public –
Sex sells. And so did The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, a fun and raunchy musical inspired by the actual Chicken Ranch of La Grange, Texas. Miss Mona runs the nicest little whorehouse you ever saw, and by the show’s end, the moral majority has seen to shutting it down with the women moving on to the next chapter in their lives. The show was a huge success and there was a film version with Dolly Parton. Well, in the sequel Miss Mona was coaxed out of retirement to run a Las Vegas whorehouse. The show, which opened in 1994, starred Dee Hoty, with Tommy Tune at the helm (assisted by Peter Masterson and Jeff Calhoun). The sequel was closer to a cheap Vegas burlesque than book musical and was universally eviscerated by critics. It folded after 16 performances, and Tommy Tune has yet to direct another Broadway musical.

The Phantom Takes Manhattan

Bring Back Birdie
Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge

and now Phantom…Once Upon Another Time

Andrew Lloyd Webber is fast at work on his impending sequel to his monstrously successful The Phantom of the Opera, which finds the characters a few years later in New York, where Christine has become a successful opera singer.

The show’s first act was presented at the Sydmonton Festival this month and first word of the plot and storyline are starting to come in. From Andrew Gans at Playbill:

The new musical, directed by Jack O’Brien, is set in Coney Island in 1906. The Post describes the musical’s first half as such: “The Phantom, having fled Paris, is running a freak show. At night, he crawls into his lair and makes love to an automaton that looks like Christine. Christine, meanwhile, has become a famous opera singer. But she’s fallen on hard times because her husband, Raoul, has squandered their fortune. So she’s accepted a high-paying gig from a mysterious impresario to open a new amusement park. On her first night in New York, she draws back the curtain in her hotel suite and comes face to face with her new employer — flash of lightning, crash of chords — the Phantom! Christine has a child, Gustave, but is his father Raoul or the Phantom?”

Hold everything. He makes love to an automaton that looks like Christine? Is anyone else completely horrified/hysterical with laughter at that? I know I am, and it’s out of a vague discomfort at the entire prospect.

I’m not suggesting that a musical theatre sequel cannot be a success, it’s just that for the most part they’ve been nothing but complete and utter disasters, with those two follow-ups I mentioned the most notable. (Though there was some success with the eventual Annie Warbucks that played off-Broadway in 1993, it was still better to leave well-enough alone).

I’m trying to think of a musical sequel that has been a success, but none seem to come to me. Perhaps Divorce Me, Darling, the follow-up to The Boy Friend, has done alright for itself, but it’s nothing close to being an established title.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.