I've rediscovered an old friend, musically speaking.
I first saw Evita on Broadway, with its original cast, when the show was relatively new. I was maybe nine or ten years old. My parents, who were at the time ardent theater-lovers, used to attend plays on and off Broadway as frequently as once a week. (They still love the theater, but don't attend as frequently these days.) A couple of times a year they would identify a show that they thought I and my brothers would enjoy, and we'd all go together. I remember, for example - I'm so grateful for this - they took us to see The King and I just before Yul Brynner's ill health forced him to retire. I remember seeing Brigadoon, too, and countless other wonderful shows and plays.
Evita made an impression on me, even before I saw it. Something about the TV commercials grabbed my attention - the dramatic images of a powerful, commanding little woman in fur and diamonds resonated in my young mind. And even now I recall so many of the details of the staging - the mass of aristocrats huddling together, the jack-stepping soldiers, the crowd of disenfrachised workers rhythmically pumping their slogan-adorned signboards, the game of musical chairs that leaves Juan Peron the only man in power. A scruffy Mandy Patinkin strutting and gesticulating in his cargo pants and army boots; a tough but graceful Patti LuPone belting her lines with measured rage. It was a magnificent, powerful spectacle, and remains the most powerful stage show I have ever experienced.
I didn't buy a copy of the cast recording until I was in high school, but once I did I wore out the grooves on that double-LP set. Evita is an opera, in the sense that even the dialog between the major songs is scored and sung, not spoken - there's recitative and aria, and the recording includes both, so that listening to the recording one can relive the show in its entirety. And relive it I did, hundreds of times, so that I knew every word and every note, and could recite it beginning to end (to my family's dismay, I am sure).
But high-school passions gave way to other passions, LPs gave way to CDs, and I never replaced the records. Years went by, probably fifteen years, in which I did not listen to the show. Then, a couple of days ago, I found myself talking about it with David. We were in a cafe in which the Rent soundtrack was playing; we were generally unimpressed with it, and it made me wonder if I would still love Evita today the way I did those years ago. A couple of hours later, I had a brand-new CD copy of the original cast recording in my hot little hands.
And I can't stop listening to it.
Think what you will about Andrew Lloyd Weber - Ms. LuPone certainly doesn't seem to have anything nice to say about him - but there was a time when the guy could write a show. There's a cohesiveness to it that is truly remarkable - themes are introduced in the opening segment and repeated, recreated, and transformed as the story unfolds. The melodies are delicious and haunting, and the performances in the original cast recording are emotional, clear, and powerful. The story is odd, at best - I remarked to David that musical theater about corrupt South American dictators is not that far removed from the subject matter of the show-within-a-show of The Producers - but compelling nevertheless. And Tim Rice's lyrics carry that story with a cohesive wit and cleverness that perfectly matches the score. In short, it's brilliant.
I'm trying to think of some highlights to identify here, but there are so many amazing moments in the show that I don't know where to begin. So just go listen to it. Even if you don't consider yourself a fan of musical theater, I think you will be glad you did.
Tell me, before I waltz out of your life, before turning my back on the past / Forgive my impertinent behavior, but how long do you think this pantomime can last? / Tell me, before I ride off in the sunset, there's one thing I never got clear / How can you claim you're our savior, when those who oppose you are stepped on, or cut up, or simply disappear?