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  • Writer's pictureClosing Night

EVITA: The First Lady of Argentina Returns to Broadway

Updated: Oct 8, 2023

Closing Night dives into the iconic and contentious history of one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's biggest musicals. Here is the transcript of that episode and sources used...

Dolly Parton and cast of 9 to 5 musical

In April of 2012, the very first revival of Evita came to Broadway, having done the same in London 6 years earlier. And in both productions, the title role featured a relatively unknown actress to Western audiences. She certainly carried big expectations to perform in a show that so many have seen and formed opinions about before even setting foot in the theater. I mean, Eva Perón is a tough role for any actress, much less one whose native language isn’t English.

For most people, the musical Evita brings to mind the actresses who’ve taken on one of the seminal roles in musical theater. First, there was Julie Covington, then Elaine Paige, Patti LuPone, Madonna, and now add Elena Roger to that list—the only one among them to have played the role both on the West End and Broadway. Also among this group of women, Madonna was the only one to have already been a celebrity when she took on the role. As for the other ladies, it was Evita that introduced them to the world and turned them into stars. Such is the power of this musical, with book and lyrics by Tim Rice and the iconic score by Andrew Lloyd Webber.


But then there’s Evita, the person and Argentinian icon, who elicits strong visceral feelings of either adoration or anger as someone who rose from being an Argentinian singer and actress to becoming wife of President Juan Perón during the 1940s and 50s. Elena Roger was born in Buenos Aires and came to the role with a sense of ownership that those other leading ladies never had.


"All my life I heard talk of Eva in my house, all my life because I'm Argentine. So always when there is a problem in my country, we talk about political, we talk about Perón, Eva and all the presidents, but Perón was very important.” - Elena Roger (AP Archive)


So whether you’re talking about the musical or the actual person, Evita comes with a contentious but long-lasting history. However, when it comes to revivals that history is rather short. Whether it’s the 2006 West End production or its subsequent transfer to Broadway in 2012, neither version even lasted a year, a far cry from their respective original productions.

So what led to Evita’s return to Broadway after a 30-year absence? How did it differ from previous productions? And why couldn’t it recapture the fame and longevity of the original? In this episode, we’ll explore the history of this high-flying adored musical and the factors that led to its Broadway revival. We’ll also highlight some challenges this production faced and the impact Evita continues to have on audiences today.

 

Closing Night is a theater history podcast about famous and forgotten Broadway shows that closed too soon, hosted and produced by New York actor Patrick Oliver Jones. This first season highlights some of the shows that have come and gone from one of Broadway’s youngest venues: the Marquis Theatre. And this is the episode transcript all about Evita and its 2012 Broadway revival. It has only been slightly edited for this format. You can listen to the full episode here or on your favorite podcast app:


EVITA BEGINNINGS

As a member of the ensemble in the 2013 National Tour of Evita, and understudy for the role of Juan Perón, I really fell in love with this score from our very first rehearsal. Our Music Supervisor, Kristen Blodgette, said she considers this to be one of Lloyd Webber’s most beautiful scores. Our National Tour was basically a replica of the Broadway revival at the Marquis Theater in 2012, which was itself based on the 2006 revival in London. So before diving into those productions, let’s explore the origins of this musical and how it first came to the stage...

The initial idea for Evita came from lyricist Tim Rice, who in 1973 was driving late one evening in London and heard the last ten minutes of a radio program about Eva Perón. “I heard the repeat of the program," said Rice on Countdown. "And the more I learned about Eva Perón, about whom I knew nothing before, the more interested I became, and it just seemed to work for our style.” After that, Rice completely immersed himself in the world of Eva Perón. There was a documentary about her, Queen of Hearts, that he saw at least 20 times. Then he flew to Buenos Aires to research original documents and interview those with personal knowledge of Eva’s life. And in 1975, he even went so far as to name his newborn daughter Eva.


Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice in 1970. (Hulton Deutsch/Corbis via Getty Images)

At first Lloyd Webber was somewhat intrigued by the idea of creating a Latin-flavored score, full of tangos and paso dobles, but ultimately he turned it down, saying he really didn't want to do “another piece about an unknown who rises to fame aged thirty-three and then dies.”


Instead, Lloyd Webber chose to work on a 1920s musical comedy called Jeeves with iconic British playwright Alan Ayckbourn. However, Jeeves was a magnificent flop in 1975, receiving a chorus of negative reviews and ending its run with only 38 performances on the West End. After that, Lloyd Webber smartly came back to Rice, who had continued working on Evita for almost a year. Now, Jeeves may have been a failure, but two pieces of music from that show would eventually make their way into Evita, becoming two notable songs in the score: “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” as well as “Goodnight and Thank You.”


Though inspiration for Evita came from many sources, the choices made by Rice and Lloyd Webber in crafting the songs and characters were “influenced more by theatricality than authenticity.” So when it came time to introduce their musical to the public, they decided to do what they had done with Jesus Christ Superstar—by recording and releasing a concept album, which came out in late 1976. It featured Julie Covington in the title role and Colm Wilkinson as Che, the irreverent and often critical narrator of the show.


Well, the concept recording for Evita was a huge hit on many international charts, outselling Superstar and turning “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” into a worldwide sensation. However, Covington didn’t want to do any press or publicity for the album, so it was Barbara Dickson, who sang the part of Perón’s Mistress on the album, she was often called upon to sing the show’s big hit song.


ORIGINAL LONDON PRODUCTION

The Evita concept album was sent to legendary director Hal Prince, who agreed to direct the piece, and over the next two years he helped shape a “concept” into a full stage musical with a brand new cast—one of the biggest changes he made was to the character of Che. The original concept was meant to represent a kind of Argentinian voice of the people—someone to comment on and at times chastise Eva Peron's rise to power. Even the name “Che” comes from traditional Argentinian usage, basically meaning mate or buddy. But Prince decided, however, to turn this everyman into a very specific man, the real-life South American Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara.

As the stage musical started to take shape, Lloyd Webber rewrote all the dance music from the concept album and along with Prince focused on the structure of the show, turning it into one of the first completely sung-through musicals. This allowed “Don't Cry For Me, Argentina” in particular to be a full-blooded song, a performance in and of itself.


Hal Prince, Elaine Paige, Andrew Lloyd Webber at the Prince Edward Theatre in 1978

Evita opened at the Adelphi Theatre on June 21, 1978 to rave reviews, and it broke box office records as the relatively unknown actress Elaine Paige would go on to win for Best Performance of the Year at the Olivier Awards and the show itself won Musical of the Year. When the show moved to Broadway the following year, Paige was originally promised the opportunity to re-create her role in New York. However, Actor’s Equity Association refused permission for a non-American to perform in the New York production.


BROADWAY PRODUCTION

If you remember back to the Me & My Girl episode, Actors Equity only allowed the British Robert Lindsay to stay in the lead role of that show because of a swap with an American actor going to London. However, there was no exchange of actors this time around, so casting had to look for another Evita. Many actresses were considered, including Ann-Margret, Charo, Raquel Welch and Meryl Streep, but in August of 1979 People magazine announced that “acting nobody” Patti LuPone had won the role. But LuPone had already earned her first Tony nomination three years earlier in The Robber Bridegroom—so she certainly wasn't a nobody.

Just as in London, this New York production broke box office records, and it became the very first British import to ever receive the Tony Award for Best Musical. Evita won seven of its 11 Tony nominations, including Best Book and Score for Rice and Lloyd Webber. And with her win for Best Actress, Patti LuPone became synonymous with the show and set a high bar for any actress who came after her. However, LuPone told the NY Times in 2007 that Evita was the worst experience of her life: “I was screaming my way through a part that could only have been written by a man who hates women. And I had no support from the producers, who wanted a star performance onstage but treated me as an unknown backstage. It was like Beirut, and I fought like a banshee.”


Yet most critics did praise her performance. However, they weren’t so eager to rave about the show itself. “The subject matter was the biggest complaint…Nobody even applauded Hal's innovation in staging this," said LuPone about the critics. T"hey just said how dare you put Evita Perón on the stage.” Nonetheless, the original Broadway production ran more than 3 years with 1,567 performances, while in London the show would last twice as long, closing in 1986 and still ranks as one of the Top 20 longest-running musicals on the West End, right behind Me and My Girl.


Over the next 20 years, this blockbuster musical would go on to at least 14 major international productions and tours, including 5 National Tours here in US, not to mention countless regional and community productions. One of the most highly touted productions, though, was the 1996 film adaptation starring Madonna.



This brought Rice and Lloyd Webber together again to write a new song specifically for the movie, called “You Must Love Me,” which went on to win the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Original Song. Honestly, the film version of Evita has such a rich and tumultuous backstory that it could be the subject of its own podcast. But, for now let’s get back to the stage productions...


WEST END REVIVAL

Ten years after this movie version and 20 years after the first London production closed, Evita finally began preparations for a return to the West End. This time produced by Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Theatre Company. And they brought in choreographer Rob Ashford and director Michael Grandage—both of whom were responsible for a West End revival of Guys and Dolls just a year earlier.


While Lloyd Webber has said that there were no rewrites of the script or lyrics for this revival production of Evita, Grandage was, however, given the freedom to approach this iconic musical with fresh eyes and rethink certain aspects of the show. For one, he made the decision to return Che to its original concept as an everyman voice of the people, no longer associated with Che Guevara. The score was also updated: first, by incorporating that song “You Must Love Me” from the film into the stage version for the first time, and then secondly, by giving Lloyd Webber the chance to revisit his music and bring more authenticity to his orchestrations.

"Back in 1975-76 when I was writing and recording it, we didn't have much knowledge, frankly in this country, of Latin music or Argentine music. I'd never heard a proper Argentine tango, although there is a tango in the piece very often. I can't wait to get at the score and do it with some of the authentic instruments. It will be really intriguing for me." - Andrew Lloyd Webber at (AP Archive)

Elena Roger, Michael Grandage & Rob Ashford

And with that more authentic sound, Grandage also made dance a more important element in the show. (As someone who did Rob Ashford’s choreography 8 times a week on tour, I can attest how central it was to the storytelling AND how intricate and tiring it was as well.) But the most notable change Grandage brought to the show was in the casting of Eva Perón, which by this point was an enormous and intimidating role for any actress to play. Here’s Grandage at a press event for the revival on how their new Eva was chosen.

"Some of the British actors who came in inevitably had as a role model Elaine Paige on the CD or Julie Covington, a few of them Madonna. A lot of the Americans had Patti LuPone as their role model and a bit of Madonna, but Elena came and had Eva Perón as her role model and it showed in everything she did.”

Elena Roger was a prolific actress in her home country of Argentina during the late 1990s and early 2000s, having done a wide variety musicals in Buenos Aires, from Les Misérables and Fiddler on the Roof to Beauty and the Beast and Saturday Night Fever. But she had never done Evita. “I only knew the song, the most famous song 'Don't Cry for Me Argentina.' I saw the film. I remember one time in a little show I sung, it was 'Don't Cry for Me Argentina.”


Broadway producer Hal Luftig

Then in October 2005, an Argentine friend of Elena’s was working in London for Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group, when she heard about plans for a revival of Evita. So she recommended that Elena be considered. Her first audition was a bit unusual back in 2005, but something that actors of today are very familiar with—a self-tape—where she sent in a DVD with samples of her singing and dancing. According to Tim Rice, it was clear she could sing, but “the initial concern was whether she had the command of English.” But that did not stop Elena from giving these auditions everything she had, as Broadway producer Hal Luftig explains: “She had flown herself over from Argentina for the audition. Didn't speak a word of English, learned the whole show phonetically. And because she was new, she had that fire in her belly like Eva Perón did.”

“I'm going to predict that she will be an extraordinary performer, and is one of the greatest discoveries that we've had in theater for a very very long time. And if I'm wrong I'd be very surprised, because she absolutely has it.” - Andrew Lloyd Webber (AP Archive)

Back in the late 70s, the original production was actually panned in Argentina, because they resented the disparaging caricature of their once-beloved leader and his wife. But in 2006 Buenos Aires, there was great excitement when it was finally announced that a native actor would be playing the West End Evita. Joining Elena onstage was the incomparable Philip Quast as the Argentine dictator Juan Perón.


Philip Quast and Elena Roger in Evita's London revival

On a personal note, I consider Quast to be the quintessential Javert in Les Misérables. So I wish I could’ve seen this Evita production with him and Elena when it opened on June 21, 2006 at the Adelphi Theatre—28 years to the day after Hal Prince's original London premiere. And much like that production made a star of Elaine Paige, this revival elevated Elena Roger to new heights. The Daily Telegraph said she dominated the stage “with tremendous presence.” The Independent called her “simply sensational” and the theater critic for the London Evening Standard said, “I am a touch ashamed to admit I have fallen head over heels for Evita again.” But The Guardian had a different take (there’s always one, right?) and it was less than impressed with Elena and the musical itself:

Lacking any coherent idea, the show is motored by a succession of Lloyd Webber songs. They are some of Lloyd Webber's best, and many have been enhanced by new orchestrations filled with tango textures. But the show is certainly a great vehicle and the Argentinian Elena Roger rides it in modest triumph… While her voice pleases, it doesn't have the clarion ring of Elaine Paige or the lyric intensity of Julie Covington and what you gain in Latin American authenticity you sometimes lose in comprehensibility.


One consistent and interesting comment among critics, though, centered around her size as she was barely five-foot high and 100 pounds—in fact, one director early in Elena’s career told her that she was too short to ever be a leading lady. Well, Evita received four Olivier Award nominations, including one for its leading lady. The other three nominations were for Best Actor (Philip Quast), Best Choreographer (Rob Ashford), and the big prize of Outstanding Musical Production.



However, in February 2007, just two weeks after the Oliviers, it was announced that the West End revival of Evita would close on May 26th, less than a year after opening. Well, even though Evita may not have won any Olivier Awards and was closing earlier than expected, producer Hal Luftig—who had brought shows like Thoroughly Modern Millie and Annie Get Your Gun to the Marquis Theatre—he saw that London revival of Evita and had other ideas for its future onstage. “I just saw it as a visitor. I did know Rob Ashford, obviously from Millie. And when I saw Rob again, I fell madly in love with it, everything about it, and especially Elena. And I just said, ‘Rob, you didn't ask me, and I don't care. I'm doing this show,’ kind of thing. And that's how it came to be.” But this $11 million Broadway production, led by Luftig and his producing partner Scott Sanders, wasn’t going to be some immediate transfer from London to New York— oh, far from it.


BRINGING EVITA TO BROADWAY

In bringing the London revival of Evita to Broadway, lead producer Hal Luftig was set on keeping Michael Grandage and Rod Ashford as director and choreographer with Elena still in the lead role. But as one production source told the New York Post: Elena Roger may be wonderful, but you need a real star to sell tickets on Broadway. So casting chose a pretty well-known pop singer who just happened to have a Broadway credit as well: Ricky Martin. However, as Luftig explains, it would be another 5 years before any Broadway revival would finally come together.


“Well, first it took, like, a couple of years to figure out Michael Grandage's availability … So we had that. Then when we signed Ricky, we had to wait almost three years for his availability. He had tours, he had an album coming out. … And so it all worked out like the pieces just came altogether … They always have to fit together like a Rubik's cube. And sometimes you have a long lead time to do that … they're like children, I always say. They're born when they're ready.”


Ricky Martin, Michael Cerveris, Elena Roger

So by the time rehearsals began for the Broadway revival of Evita in January 2012, Elena was in different place from that London revival in both her life and career. “I did it six years ago and now I'm older and I'm mature," said Roger at a press conference. "So I am thinking about the character in a little bit different way than I used to…So I try to do my best and I do all the research and I give my heart, my love and well, that's it. That's what I do for every character.”


She joined a full cast of more than 30 performers—which now included Michael Cerveris as Juan Perón, Rachel Potter as Mistress, Max von Essen as Migaldi, and of course Ricky Martin in the role of Che, who had made his Broadway debut in 1996 in Les Misérables.


“It's amazing cause I did Marius, who was a man that spoke for the people. And I guess Che does the same thing. It's just been fascinating. I'm in another place mentally, physically, spiritually today. It's been a very beautiful journey, very spiritual. And I'm here to learn. I'm here to grow. And it's been a fascinating trip. ”


While in many ways this revival was going to be a remounting of the London production, there was one track that was added or rather altered for Broadway. This time the creative team designated a single actress, in this case Christina DeCicco, whose only job was to be the alternate Eva two times a week. However, once rehearsals began Christina says they kind of didn’t know what to do with her as she was often not part of the schedule when Elena was rehearsing. That was until Elena intervened.


“She spoke to stage managers like, 'Listen. You need to schedule Christina every time that I am doing work, with Michael or with Ricky, we need to be together. She needs to know what's going on.' And so I got to be, luckily because of her, I got to be in those early rooms where you're just discussing character and you're breaking this down.” - Christina DeCicco


And with this being the first Evita revival on Broadway, you can imagine how the history and expectations of the original production surrounded them, but from Hal Luftig and Michael Grandage on down, there was an emphasis on making this revival unique and its own show, and that included individual performances as well.


“Che, he's a chameleon. He can be so many people at the same time. And that was for me new. When I'm on stage as Ricky, well I'm Ricky. I am nobody but me. And I think that tomorrow I can be someone else in this portraying, this character, which I find fascinating. It's like an open canvas that I can find colors and textures every night with respect and dignity. It's going to be amazing.” - Ricky Martin at press conference

But while there was freedom to create each character and the moments within the show, that doesn’t mean it was any easier to actually perform the show. I can certainly attest to how hard the music is, and remember it’s completely sung through, so there’s no rest for your voice onstage from beginning to end, especially for the lead roles. Ricky Martin told Vanity Fair that it was very different from the pop singing he was used to, because Evita is a classical score where everything is more pronounced, and the vocal range was “pretty aggressive” and challenging.


“And yes, you know, the anxiety is there. But the next step was to just get on stage and feel the energy of the audience. That was the next step. That's what we were begging for at this point.” - Ricky Martin at press conference

Preview performances began on March 12, 2012, and the very next day a big press event was scheduled for the show. In fact, the past few quotes from Roger and Martin have been from that press conference. So during that press event with the cast busy elsewhere, the fire department came into the Marquis Theatre to do a regular maintenance check on the safety systems.


Marquis Theatre stage and the 'Evita' set during a lighting master class

Now, in many theaters there is what’s called a fire curtain, which prevent fires from spreading from the stage to audience and vice versa. In the Marquis, they opted for what’s called deluge curtain, which is a 200 gallon tank being emptied onto the stage to create a wall of water to combat any fires. Well, in testing this kind of water curtain, there’s a key that has to be put in when you press the button to let the system know it's just a test. Because all the fire department is checking for is the pressure. That water has to come down really hard. And mind you this isn’t regular tap water in the tank—this is pretty gross water not fit for human consumption.

Well, the person testing the system forgot that important key, so when he hit the button, the system reacted as if there was a fire. And a wall of this slimy water came down onto the stage, which was a raked stage that angled slightly downward into the orchestra pit. Yep, that’s right, it quickly turned into an orchestra pool. And you might say the “curse of the Marquis Theatre” struck again. At this point the company manager called up Hal Luftig to let him know what had happened.


“And I got to the theater, and the pit was like a sea with sheet music and instruments. And when Kristen Blodgette, God love her soul, who was our music director, she jumped in the pit to try and save. And, like, the crew was like, ‘Get out of there! There's live electricity in there.’ They're pulling her out. And so again, they got all the water out, but we had to literally, literally take the sheet music, spread it out over the orchestra seats, and dry it with hand dryers.”

That’s because the show was still in previews, the music notes and changes that the orchestra had been making to their sheet music hadn’t been transcribed into the actual orchestrations yet. Those wet pages were the only documentation of the music changes to the score. So for the next several days the orchestra had to gingerly turn these crinkled dried pages throughout those performances. Thankfully, that was the last bit drama during the previews…until opening night on April 5th.

 

For decades, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber have been asked about their partnership in many interviews. That’s because ever since that original concept album of Evita in 1976, the two of them stopped writing together. Rice even turned down Lloyd Webber’s invitation to write lyrics for The Phantom of the Opera back in the mid-1980s. They did collaborate on a 30-minute musicalette called Cricket, which was commissioned for the Queen in 1986, as well as a song here or there, like “You Must Love Me” for the Evita film, but they hadn’t done any full-length projects. That was until 2010 when Rice provided additional lyrics to a production of The Wizard of Oz on the West End—a 34-year hiatus had come to an end. Almost.


Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice speaking on stage in 2014

In an interview with The Telegraph, which came out just two weeks after that water curtain incident, Rice said, “The two of us trying to write something wouldn't work. We're not relevant as a team any more.”


“But something happened, I don’t wanna know. When we came to New York, they were not speaking to one another … But I wanted them to become friends again … And the idea was to have them on opening night together for the first time, posing for a photo. Didn’t quite work out that way, but that was the plan.” - Hal Luftig

That's because Rice and Lloyd Webber decided to meet on their own before the opening night performance and have a private cocktail. Well, it was not just one cocktail, and by the time a limo picked them up to bring them to the theater for their six o’clock photo call together, they were feeling quite celebratory. However, there was tons of traffic and they soon realized they were going to be late. So the two decided to get out of the limo and walk instead. Now, whether it was because of the drinks or they just doesn't know the city that well, they walked in the wrong direction, and suddenly they found themselves at FDR Drive, which is on the very East Side of Manhattan. The Marquis Theatre on the other hand is in midtown, many blocks away.


"Now it's 6:30, now it's 6:40, now it's 6:45. And I have a theater full of people. And I said, 'We have to start. We can't wait for I don't know when.' I kept calling it. And they finally showed up, about ten of seven. A little inebriated, a little inebriated. And the photographers they left, they all went home. So it was funny. It's funny now. At the time, not so funny.” - Hal Luftig

But by the time that opening night performance was over, everyone was all smiles and cheering that after three decades, the First Lady of Argentina was finally back on Broadway—and that excitement extended from the audience to the cast as well, especially for Roger and Martin during opening night red carpet interviews...

Ricky: “I’m overwhelmed with emotions to be honest, and I think when I go home tonight I’ll allow myself to really be specific. But I am very thankful, a lot of gratitude because of the people I’m working with.”
Elena: “Amazing! Everything is like so happy for me, everything. Also, the cast is amazing, I feel that well, we did a great show. The audience was with us all the time. I feel happy, I was very nervous.”

Unfortunately that nervousness came through as many critics focused on Elena’s vocals, mentioning a “few frayed top notes” and worrying “how long her voice, a little brittle at the top, will hold up, even on a limited performance schedule.” Others, like the Associated Press, just wanted more La Vida Loca: “all of the heat actually comes from the guy shaking his bon-bon. Ricky Martin is easily the best thing about this revival.”

New York Magazine even took a swipe at the theater itself saying that “Grandage’s imposing new vision uses the Marquis’ vast, cavernous tastelessness to suitably overblown effect.” (They certainly packed a lot of descriptive words into that one sentence.) But Entertainment Weekly gave the show a C+ and was particularly harsh on its leading actress:


There are three questions facing any woman in the title role of the 1979 Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical Evita: How is her ”Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”? How is her arm raise (a.k.a. the signature Evita pose)? And how does she handle that vocal-cord-killing score? For Argentine actress Elena Roger in the adequate new Broadway revival, the answers are: Passable. Effective. And badly.


Christina DeCicco: “We knew we had something special anyway, no matter what critics were going to say about it not being the original production. And so we just took pride in what we had and what we were creating every night anyway.”


Despite those reviews, Evita had the 6th highest box office gross on Broadway in 2012, just ahead of Phantom of the Opera and well ahead of the other Rice/Lloyd Webber revival that year, Jesus Christ Superstar. In fact, Evita was reaching around $1.5 million a week leading up to the Tony Awards, where it was nominated for Best Choreography (Rob Ashford), Best Actor in a Musical (Michael Cerveris), and Best Musical Revival. But even after no wins at the Tonys, the show still averaged around $1 million a week for the rest of that year. And that included stretches of time when Elena was out and alternate Christina DeCicco was the full-time Eva.

“I got to go on a lot because Elena, they allowed her to film two movies in Argentina during our run. So she was gone for five weeks for one, I believe, and then three and a half, four weeks for another movie. So I became the 6 shows a week and Jess Patty became the 2 shows a week. … It was really kind of a sisterhood of traveling Evas. It was very special to have an actor like her, who was so welcoming and so not threatened by anything. She was there to do what she was there to do, and nobody was going to say anything that was going to make her feel bad about it.” - Christina DeCicco

With the first Argentine actress playing Eva and with Ricky Martin as Che, producers obviously wanted to capitalize on this production. Co-producer Scott Sanders said, “There is a genuine hunger from our audience members – expressed at the theatre merchandise stands, on the show’s website, and through its social media outlets – for us to deliver a complete recording of this beloved show and its score.” You see, the London revival cast recording was only a highlights album, so for this Broadway revival they decided to release a two-CD complete recording of the score.



As 2012 was coming to a close, the contracts for the three leads (Elena, Ricky, and Michael) were nearing their end, and none of them planned on staying with show beyond January 2013. So the search was on to find replacements for these leads. But in all honesty, Ricky Martin was the main attraction of the revival. During some of the weeks when he was on vacation, ticket sales would often fall sharply. So Luftig and the production team held an extensive search for someone with name recognition who could actually sing this score. And it mainly focused around big-name stars to play Eva Perón.


“Well, we just thought we could keep going. At one point, for instance, I remember Scott Sanders, my producing partner, had a conversation with J.Lo and Ricky was like, ‘I would actually stay a couple of weeks longer, if she came in just to get her in the role.’ And she came to see it, and she just said, ‘I can't sing like that six times a week. I can't do that. That's not how I sing.’ Which is true when you think about it, so we tried … Went down a whole list: J.Lo, Lea Michelle, Idina. Like, Idina was very interested.” - Hal Luftig

But ultimately, Idina Menzel signed on to do a new Tom Kitt musical called If/Then and wasn’t going to leave that show for Evita. So producers made the decision that it just didn’t make financial sense to keep the show running without their three stars and with no viable options to replace them, and in mid-December 2012, it was announced that the first revival of Evita on Broadway would close at the Marquis Theatre the following month on January 26, 2013.


“We didn't close because of numbers or ticket sales or anything. We closed because the contracts were ending, and they decided not to pursue anybody else to continue it. So it was disappointing, but we also were glad that we were still going out with a bang.” - Christina DeCicco


Evita ended on a Saturday, so that meant DeCicco and Elena got to have their final shows on the same day, giving the cast a chance to give their all for these two Evas. When it was all said and done, the Broadway revival of Evita played 26 preview performances and 337 regular performances.


“The hardest thing we have to do as a producer is make that decision. But we did. So I cried my eyes out for a couple of days and on we went. And you guys came along with the national tour and I was just as proud, if not more. And we did extremely well on the road.” - Hal Luftig


US NATIONAL TOUR & BEYOND

Unlike the Broadway production that relied on Ricky Martin's star power, our national tour focused on selling the show itself. We often had larger houses on the road than the Marquis Theatre, and we would fill them with applauding audiences of 2,000+. But the success of any tour depends not only on ticket sales but also on the cast and crew, and fortunately we had a fantastic group that enjoyed each other's company, onstage and off.


Another thing, tours tend to be less expensive than the original production. Our sets were simplified for transportation, our cast size was reduced from the New York production as was our pay. Also, my weekly salary was about a third that of my counterpart who played the same ensemble role on Broadway. So our tour maintained the high-quality look and feel of the Broadway show, while being cost-effective and cheaper.


The investors from the Broadway production had the first right of refusal to invest in our tour, and many of them chose to do so. And fortunately, the tour was able to recoup its investment, unlike the Broadway revival production – that meant overages for the cast as well, meaning that in certain cities where box office was higher than expected, the cast got a cut of the profits. And believe me, an extra few hundred dollars here and there go a long way on tour.


Well, three years after our US National Tour, Hal Prince actually teamed up with original choreographer Larry Fuller and directed an international tour of Evita that traveled through South Africa, Southeast Asia, Japan, Taiwan, and Australia. In his memoir that came out about this same time called Sense of Occasion, Prince expressed disappointment with the 2012 revival and outlined his intentions to bring Evita back to Broadway as it was originally produced and directed. He believed audiences were ready for a proper treatment of Evita, which he considers to have been one of the best musicals he’s ever worked on.

Well, that Prince-led tour never made its way to New York. But there is another up-and-coming director who might possibly bring Evita back to Broadway someday, and that’s Sammi Cannold. She led the widely-praised New York City Center Encores production in 2019, when she was only 25 years old, and has mounted another version at the Cambridge, Massachusetts American Repertory Theater in the summer of 2023.


“It’s basically the same DNA and the same sort of design elements, the same team, but it's sort of grown into a full production, a concert production, and we rehearsed it in ten days. And I think the biggest difference now is that we have so much more time. So there's a lot that we're developing that I'm really excited about. This production will only have one Eva. We did have two when we did City Center, but that's sort of the big fundamental difference. But otherwise, it's really about just sort of expanding both physically and in terms of depth of ideas and time to make them.” - Sammi Cannold

That truly is the beauty of Eva Perón’s story and the musical given to us by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. It continues to speak to us today and find relevance in our politics and society as a whole. And that gives artists like Sammi a chance to share compelling stories like these in fresh new ways.


“Not only has Hal Luftig and Elena and everybody who worked on that production that I know been so, so generous about this new interpretation, but I never got to talk to Hal Prince about what we were doing. But when I read his book, and I hear him talk about how he feels, it's really important for new generations of artists to have their opportunity to say what they want to say about his work. That, to me, is really beautiful. So part of what I'm hoping to do with this production is to really honor the legacy of what it's coming after while also adding new things.”


Listen to more conversation with Christina and Sammi in the bonus episode:


 
Closing Night theater history podcast cover art

Closing Night is a production of WINMI Media with Patrick Oliver Jones as host and executive producer. Dan Delgado is the editor and co-producer, not only for this podcast but also for his own movie podcast as well called The Industry, which I highly recommend. Maria Clara Ribeiro is co-producer. Thank you to those who contributed to this episode: Hal Luftig, Christina DeCicco, Sammi Cannold, and the various theater news outlets. Join us next time as another production makes its way to closing night.

 

Sources and materials used to create this episode...


Beginnings

Production History

  • 1978 to 1986: London - 2,913 performances

  • 1979 to 1983: Broadway - 1,567 performances, 17 previews

Evita was the worst experience of my life,” she said. “I was screaming my way through a part that could only have been written by a man who hates women. And I had no support from the producers, who wanted a star performance onstage but treated me as an unknown backstage. It was like Beirut, and I fought like a banshee.”

1996 Evita Film

2006 London Revival

2012 Broadway Revival

2019 City Center


Background Music


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