With Evita currently running on Broadway for the first time since the original production closed its doors in 1983, the role of Eva Peron is once again on New Yorkers’ minds. The role is indelibly linked (perhaps to a fault) with Patti LuPone.
When I say “to a fault” I don’t mean to imply that there was anything wrong with Patti’s performance. I didn’t see it, considering the production shuttered before I was born and she had vacated the role even before then. What I mean is that any actress playing this role, especially on Broadway, is going to be judged against how much she does or doesn’t live up to what people remember or think they remember about Patti’s legendary, star-making turn in the role.
The reason I’ve been thinking about this is because of Evita’s current leading lady, Elena Roger.
As I mentioned before, Elena is leading this revival on Broadway after already doing so on the West End where she received immense praise from critics and audiences for her portrayal of Eva Peron. Since opening the Broadway production, however, things have been quite different. I didn’t follow much press regarding the revival once it opened so I was shocked when Tony and Drama Desk nominations came out and Elena was passed over for both. After that surprise I went on to learn that Elena’s Broadway performance has received a fairly negative response from critics and audiences. On a message board I frequent two users who’ve seen the show commented that her performance was disappointing, one of whom saw her in the London production and loved her but said that her performance now lacks the subtlety and charm it did in London.
Why did this happen? My thoughts are that it may be due to Patti’s lasting influence on Evita on Broadway. Perhaps the revival’s director, Michael Grandage (or even Elena herself) was aware of the almost oppressive imprint left by Patti and tried to pump up her performance in response. From what I understand based on word of mouth and the Original Broadway Cast Recording, Patti’s Eva was brassy almost to the point of being crass, with a spitfire personality. Once I remember reading an opinion from someone who compared her performance to Elaine Paige’s in the original West End production as the role having been “Wicked Witched-up” by going from Paige’s comparatively subtle role to Patti’s ambitious take.
Of course this is only a thought. The real reason for the change (if it was indeed a conscious change, which may or may not even be the case) could be something else entirely, but I do think it’s interesting to wonder about.