Saturday, July 4, 2009

Evita (1996)

I tend to prefer older musicals, probably because that's what I grew up hearing. Anything written after 1970 seems "new" to me, and you won't find Les Miserables, Sunday in the Park with George, or Legally Blonde: The Musical among my collection of recordings. Perhaps the only exception is the one modern musical I did listen to growing up: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Evita. My father had a tape of the 1979 Broadway recording of Evita starring Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin (and Bob Gunton as Juan Peron), and I listened to it often enough to know all the words by heart.

I was very excited to hear about a movie version being made in the 1990s. However, when the casting of Madonna as Eva Peron was announced, I was appalled (as was much of Argentina). I didn't like Madonna's music in the '80s and didn't think she was up to the part (although I now realize her music is far superior to that of Britney Spears and the like). So it was with trepidation that I entered the theater in 1996 to watch the film version of Evita. Let me say I was extremely impressed with Madonna's performance and especially taken with Antonio Banderas as Che.

Fast-forward 13 years to 2009. After seeing Antonio Banderas in the dance film Take the Lead, I put Evita on the Netflix queue and it finally made its way to the top last week. I was interested in seeing how the movie has held up and if I still enjoyed it as much as the first time. And the answer is: Yes! A qualified yes!

Although Madonna was actually five years older than Eva Peron was when she died in 1952, she still was convincing, even as as a young Eva going to the big city for the first time:

Courtesy of Resylan on YouTube.

As good as Madonna was, Antonio Banderas was even better. As much as I like Mandy Patinkin, I think I actually prefer Antonio Banderas' performance. It's hard to pick out one song, since Che is integral to almost every scene, but I think "Oh What a Circus is best":

Courtesy of Resylan on YouTube.

My favorite song of the musical is actually "I'd be Surprisingly Good for You". This is one case where I definitely prefer the Broadway version, but this one featuring Madonna and Jonathan Pryce as Juan Peron is still very good:

Courtesy of mjovic87 on YouTube.

Overall the production was excellent and costumes were also spectacular. One can almost understand how this young woman rose from poverty to become the beloved first lady of Argentina. Although the musical doesn't sugarcoat the reality that the Perons were fascists, it hard not to empathize with Eva and even shed a tear when she sings her last notes.