NEW YORK - Rolling fog suffuses the slums and palaces of Argentina in “Evita,” the second and far better Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice revival to have opened on Broadway this spring.
Dating to 1979, and more sophisticated in storytelling and music than “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Evita” begins with the end: flickering newsreels depicting the state funeral of Eva Peron, whose death at 33 in 1952 concluded a life of power, couture, saintly deeds and ransacking public coffers.
Her garish shenanigans are eerily rendered in chiaroscuro through the billowing clouds of mist and moody, monumentalist settings in Michael Grandage’s production.
At the center is Elena Roger, a petite Argentine soprano who delivers a charismatic performance as the ambitious nobody who box-springed her way up the power ladder, from the provinces to the Casa Rosa in Buenos Aires as the wife of dictator Juan Peron.
In the first act’s terrific one-two punch, Eva and Juan (the electrifying Michael Cerveris) sing “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You,” envisioning their plans as cold-bloodedly as the Macbeths.
At the same time, she gives the boot to his current mistress, who ends up on the street singing “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” beautifully sung by Rachel Potter.
Rice and Lloyd Webber’s audacious idea was to drop Che Guevara (Ricky Martin) into the action. The revolutionary hero comments mostly from the sidelines as the Perons promise redemption to the shirtless poor while stealing everything in sight.
Eschewing the character’s familiar military fatigues, Martin plays Che (who never had anything to do with Argentina) as a populist obser-ver. He’s more the glinty-eyed critic than the embodiment of dashed hopes. In open shirt, crinkled eyes and mustache, Martin exudes bonhomie.
That’s not enough to offset the comically shameless Perons, especially given Rice’s compressed libretto. We’re left to connect a lot of dots.
In her Broadway debut, Roger has plenty of the star quality Evita sings about.
With a magnificent sound, Cerveris’ bottomless eyes make up for what’s shortchanged in Peron’s barely sketched character.
Grandage and choreographer Rob Ashford offer two hours of swirling motion with crowds clamoring for human rights and dancers turning tangos into erotic tableaux.
Christopher Oram’s sets take us to grand plazas and to the living quarters of the presidential palace. His costumes range from rough tatters to Evita’s voluminous white-sequined gown, altogether offering knockout visuals.
With his trinity of mesmerizing public figures (the Phantom, Jesus, Eva Peron) on Broadway, Lloyd Webber returns to star status. The other names attached to these shows may not even matter. The show runs through September: evitaonbroadway.com.