Patti LuPone, who won a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for “Evita,” recalling the show in a provocative profile by the NYTimes' Jesse Green:
“‘Evita’ was the worst experience of my 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.”
Whoa! “A part that only could have been written by a man who hates women?” You wonder what Andrew Lloyd Webber has to say to that rap. He's the same composer, after all, who has written some of the splashiest roles for musical actresses in contemporary Broadway. Not counting “Evita,” there's Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard,” Grizabella in “Cats,” Christine in “Phantom of the Opera,” Mary Magdalene in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Emma in “Song & Dance.” Three of these parts have won for their actresses their own Tony statuettes: Glenn Close for “Sunset,” Betty Buckley for “Cats” and Bernadette Peters for “Song & Dance.”
Given that track record, many leading ladies of musical theater would kill to do a Lloyd Webber extravaganza. But there's Miss LuPone, unexpectedly lashing out at the show that had stamped her name on the Broadway books. Perhaps she's still smarting from having been dumped by Mr. Lloyd Webber for “Sunset's” Broadway run after she had originated the part in London?
Or maybe it's true that even Patti LuPone herself, already equipped with the boombox voice (nakalulon ng amplifier, in local gay lingo) and outsize personality that had made her a natural for “Evita,” still felt worn down by the musical's punishing, inhuman score.
Forget the music that you had heard in the movie version. A quick match-up of the 1979 Broadway cast album (with Ms. LuPone, Mandy Patinkin as Che and Bob Gunton as Juan Peron) and “Evita's” film soundtrack (with Madonna as Evita, Antonio Banderas as Che and Jonathan Pryce as Juan Peron) would show that Mr. Lloyd Webber had tinkered with the score and transposed whole bars to accommodate Madonna's limited vocal range. (Exhibit A: the stratospheric musical patter of Ms. LuPone and Mr. Patinkin in “Goodnight and Thank You” versus the tamer, truncated version in the movie.)
Last year, “Evita” was revived at the Adelphi Theater in London with an Argentinean spitfire named Elena Roger taking on the role that, for better or for worse, had defined her country and people for a generation of theatergoers. Ms. Roger earned high praise for her performance (“Elena Roger is simply sensational,” said the Independent. “A socking great star performance,” agreed The Daily Telegraph). The retooled production already incorporated the song “You Must Love Me,” which had appeared only in the movie.
Even Ms. Roger, however, is unlikely to erase the now-legendary identification of “Evita” with Ms. LuPone. Twenty-eight years hence and the fiery diva who had blown Broadway away with her incredible belting has gone on to other equally acclaimed roles: as Fantine in the original West End run of “Les Miserables,” as Mrs. Lovett in a revival of “Sweeney Todd,” as Mama Rose Lee in “Gypsy,” as Reno Sweeney in “Anything Goes.”
But when she stepped out at this year's Tony Awards to introduce “Company” as a nominee for Best Musical Revival, guess what melody the band struck up to greet her appearance? The most famous song from “the worst experience of [her] life:” “Don't Cry For Me, Argentina.”
Her fans aren't letting go of her just yet. Not with memories of her pinnacle musical moment now materializing on YouTube, like this one:
PLUS: Trivia--“Evita” was effectively banned in the Philippines while Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos held court in Malacanang. Imelda didn't want the inevitable comparison with Eva Peron, whose rise from poverty to glitzy power mirrored her own life (“At least I wasn't a hoochie-patoochie,” Imelda was said to have protested). After EDSA I, Repertory Philippines was quick to mount the musical, with Baby Barredo and Joy Virata alternating as leads in the 1986 production. Rep restaged it in 1995 with Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo and Carla Martinez as Eva. I was too young to see the first one, and too hard-up at the time to catch the second. Sigh.
[photo 1: Martha Swope/Time Inc.]