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.
Not every Evita needs to produce aural pyrotechnics like original Broadway star Patti LuPone. She does, however, need to hit every note with laserlike precision, and Roger misses too many. She’s a fierce dancer; at one point, choreographer Rob Ashford entangles her in an impressive threesome tango. (Ashford has designed innumerable intricate variations, from funeral dirge to mating ritual, on the Argentine backroom-and-bar dance.)
But more often than not, she’s shrill and — as an American Idol judge would say — pitchy. Her best number, strangely, is ”You Must Love Me,” the Oscar-winning song written for the 1996 Madonna-starring film. Maybe it’s because Roger is unable to launch a full-throated attack on the melody; she’s collapsed in a heap on the floor (the first lady’s body is riddled with cancer), and her voice finds strength in her character’s weakness.
To be fair, it isn’t easy to sell a bed-hopping, social-climbing starlet married to a South American dictator (Michael Cerveris, displaying subtle charm and impeccable posture). Perhaps to balance Eva’s brittleness, director Michael Grandage bolsters the narrator’s friendliness: Che, played with irresistible swagger by Ricky Martin, is no longer the beret-wearing, fatigues-clad Che Guevara type of past productions. Martin could dial down the enthusiasm; he loves to reach out, literally, to the audience. But he sings like a dream, and he’s clearly more comfortable here than he was storming the barricades in Les Misérables 16 years ago. Judging by the curtain-call squeals, his fans are packing the house — and going home happy. On that level, Evita succeeds brilliantly. C+
(Tickets: Ticketmaster.com or 877-250-2929)