Sorry, Eva… I’m Weeping

EvitaRecently I came across the soundtrack for the movie Evita at Goodwill for $.075 (it was on cassette).  I bought it and have listened to it in my car a few times.  About eight years ago I saw the musical performed live onstage and loved it.  I rented the movie, and… I didn’t hate it (like I wound up ultimately disliking the movie made of the musical Phantom of the Opera), but I certainly didn’t like it as much.  At first, it was a mystery as to why.

Aside from the way the movie handles “Oh, What a Circus” that is.  Che… you’re reasoning with a painting!  That just doesn’t look good.  Stop it.

But basically, the stage production and the movie have ultimately two very different agendas.  The stage production makes Eva Peron a more ambiguous figure.  She has qualities of a femme fatale, but she’s very sincere about her work, and has very few illusions about what she is.  She also kept working while on her deathbed from ovarian cancer (a detail both the movie and the play leave out).  The movie makes her more sympathetic, such as by having her sing the downer-song “Another Suitcase In Another Hall” instead of Peron’s ousted, teenage mistress.  The movie also has a faceless bureaucrat skimming funds from the Eva Peron Foundation treasury instead of Eva herself.  These are huge differences, and without them, Che Guevara’s (if anyone even recognizes him) unrelenting criticism of her through his narration comes off as remarkably petty, and one can brush him aside as easily as the nagging upper class chorus, or the disgusting military chorus calling for Eva to get back on her back and stay out of politics.

And speaking of which… this has nothing to do with the quality of either the movie or the show.  But when my old music teacher first told us about the movie/musical she described Pryce’s Peron as “a sweet ol’ grandpa.”  My eyes did a variation of the Tex Avery thing when I first got an eyeful of him in the movie.  “Sweet ol’ grandpa?”  Just what sort of litmus test are you using, Mrs. Dearborn?  And I’m not all that shot with either Peron or Pryce, but I sure wouldn’t call him a sweet old grandpa.

Anyway, back to actual critiques.  I’ve mentioned before that I found that Antonio Banderas’ Che is basically unrecognizable as the historical figure.  That may have been deliberate on the part of the filmmakers– to avoid controversy– but it doesn’t work.  We don’t know who this guy is, or why he’s there, or what his schtick is.  He needs to be a clear radical leftist (in contrast to Peron), and more importantly separate from the action.  It gives him a better standpoint as the omniscent narrator than being a waiter in one scene, an obnoxious journalist in the next, celebrating the arrival as a result of the Foundation even as he criticizes it… something’s just missing.  And then there’s the tango.  It’s a beautiful scene where Banderas and Madonna dance together, but it just doesn’t work.  These are people who, it seems, despise each other, so having them do a sexy tango (even if it’s just a hallucination while Eva is under anesthetic) doesn’t make sense.  In the stage production, they tango– but they never touch.  In fact, they barely get close at all.  It’s eerie, and it still feels in character.

So I’ve said my piece.  I may be whining, but I still like the musical.  Tim Rice is a great lyricist (although I still don’t understand the song “The Lady’s Got Potential”), and Webber writes lovely music.  Everyone has a stinker in their resume, but Evita is not it.  That would be Love Never Dies.