(It took time to tackle a topic as huge as Evita, and I decided to ask for some outside opinions. A huge thanks to some good pals within the realm of musical theatre who contributed to this essay and are quoted within: Georgia MacNaughton, an actor who had some “inside information” for me on Evita after being in it, and Lucas Gutiérrez-Robert, an Argentinean actor who brought onboard cultural and historical perspective. Much appreciated!)
I recently saw “The Art of the Possible” listed as one of the best musical theatre songs of all time.
I can’t find the link for the life of me, but I swear I was scrolling on my phone at 3AM and I saw that. I knew then that I had to write this essay, library studies and all. My friends were curious.
“What class is your essay on Evita for?” my pal Silas asked, “Latin American history?”
“Oh, no, it’s not for a class,” I replied, “I’m writing it solely out of rage.”
Yes. Alright. Fine. You broke me. Since I am now in the habit of ripping musicals a new one, it’s time to talk about the one I hate the most. ‘It won’t be easy. You’ll think it strange when I try to explain how I feel.’ But nonetheless, it’s time to talk about the absolute behemoth of awfulness that is Evita.
That’s right, readers. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Evita is my least favorite musical.
I dislike it more than the overproduced, poorly conceived 2014 Annie remake with Cameron Diaz that singlehandedly murdered my childhood. I once watched From Justin to Kelly, the American Idol movie musical that has a 2.1 on IMDb and I think its conception and existence has more merit than Evita.
And you know what? Screw it. All bets are off here. In writing this, I realized that I hate Evita more than the disastrous Addams Family Musical. Yes, the Addams Family Musical also takes Latinx-coded characters and hires inappropriate people to play them but otherwise I’d say it is mostly harmless… which I can’t say for Evita.
First, some disclaimers:
- I am a white woman from the United States and Canada, not Argentina. So, although it was not Andrew Lloyd Webber’s story to tell, it’s not entirely mine to criticize. I acknowledge this.
- I’m no expert on the history of Argentina so I can’t speak fully to the historical accuracy of Evita (or the lack thereof). Yeah, I’m getting a history degree, but I’m just now dipping my toes into all of this. People of Argentina, or anyone with any expertise, feel free to let me know if any of this is objectively incorrect. These are topics with huge and real impacts and I approach them only as a student of media studies and history.
- Dirty laundry Part I: I once covered “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” because it was my most-requested song to cover ever and I was shutting down my SoundCloud account.
- Dirty Laundry Part II: Like any good Depeche Mode fan, I went through an intense Phantom of the Opera phase when I was 15-years-old (which is the correct age to go through a Phantom phase, by the way). I’m too easy on Andrew Lloyd Webber despite being Team Sondheim.
- Dirty Laundry Part III: I wrote a post about Madonna’s music this summer.
- In this essay, I will be examining the stage musical Evita… less so the 1996 Alan Parker film and the 1976 concept album of the same name.
- I worship the very ground that Lana Del Rey walks on and she did this for an Andrew Lloyd Webber compilation album. Sigh.
“But wait!” you may decry, “Evita came out in the 1970s! What on earth makes you think it is relevant today?”
The Historical Backstory
Eva María Duarte de Perón (who for some baffling reason is just listed on Google as an “Argentine film actress”) was the First Lady of Argentina. She was married to President Juan Perón from 1946 to 1952, when she died.
She fought for women’s suffrage in Argentina, founded and ran the Eva Perón Foundation for charity, and founded and ran the nation’s first large-scale feminist political party, the Female Perónist Party.
She was nicknamed Evita, thus the title of the show. I’ve seen her called a “divisive” or “controversial” figure many times but I’m not sure who is divided or for what reason (See also: I’m ignorant). All I know for sure is that, back in high school, a friend of mine from Argentina said that Evita is a comparable figure to Princess Diana to many people: she married into her position, she dressed well, and she was known for her efforts of charity and feminism.
The Show’s Backstory
The story of Evita, the musical, goes that after having pulled of Jesus Christ Superstar, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice decided to mercilessly attack yet another “controversial” figure who is nonetheless a devoutly beloved figure around the world (two, if you count Ché).
How I imagine this playing out in real time, minus the laugh-track:
The production history of Evita is rather messy and seems to bring out the worst in people. Patti LuPone, who originated the role of Eva Perón, ripped into Madonna just last year and called her performance “a piece of shit”.
The film sat in development hell for something like fifteen years. Meryl Streep was initially supposed to play Eva (and thank God she didn’t because then I might hate Meryl Streep of all people), but left the production due to “exhaustion”. Madonna, who has had endless controversies over cultural appropriation and insensitivity, some in Latin America specifically, demanded she be given the role. Argentineans were, understandably, displeased. They staged protests, launched anti-Evita campaigns, and swarmed staff with media. The message was clear in Buenos Aires: “Out Madonna, Argentina does not love you.”
And the rest, as they say, is historically inaccurate.
I’m Sorry, But We Have to Talk About Andrew Lloyd Webber.
In summarizing the general opinion of The Right Honourable Andrew Lloyd Webber (some absolute madman actually knighted him) that seems to pervade the musical theatre sphere, I point to the following evidence: Even in an article praising Lloyd Webber’s autobiography, journalist Adam Gopnik can’t help but say his music lacks “surprise, contemporaneity, audacity, and an appealingly shrewd sense of the occasion.”
He further writes:
“There is nothing pompous or pallid about his prose, which makes it all the odder that so much of the music that he wrote seems to have no other qualities. [Andrew Lloyd Webber is known as] the guy who dragged the Broadway musical from its vitality and idiomatic urgency back to its melodramatic roots in European operetta—while also degrading rock music to a mere rhythm track…”
And that, again, is from an article praising Lloyd Webber.
The elephant in the room is this: Actual Frog Man Andrew Lloyd Webber radiates pure, unadulterated Small Dick Energy. Andrew Lloyd Webber doesn’t think he’s cool. He wants to be cool. He wants to be cool so bad. And, unfortunately, this outwardly insecure, defensive aspect of his personality seeps into his work. For example, we all know that Phantom is just a thinly veiled allegory for Lloyd Webber’s relationship with Sarah Brightman (he even named his autobiography Unmasked), which makes Love Never Dies an extremely unbearable, TMI experience in every sense.
Now, I’m not in the business of making fun of people solely for their appearance, their insecurities, or their awkwardness, but I thought I’d mention it up front because Evita has everything else wrong with it.
“Andrew Lloyd Webber probably wanted to be a rock star, but once he looked at his swollen, droopy face in the mirror, he thought ‘No. This is never gonna happen’. It’s not even that he decided to write musicals, he just knew in his heart that some things were not meant to be.” – Georgia MacNaughton
And don’t get me wrong: Tim Rice is not off the hook. He is also due for roasting, like so:
“Tim Rice is the only first-language English speaker with virtually no grasp of the language. He is the only literate person to effectively be illiterate.” – Georgia MacNaughton
TANGENT: And, also, can someone please acknowledge that Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote a musical about Jeeves? JEEVES. THE ACTUAL VALET JEEVES. Who in their right mind wanted a MUSICAL about JEEVES?? I would Ask Jeeves if I still could.
And now, let’s begin before the beginning…
Instead of going in depth about the vast quantities of historical accuracies in Evita, which could be its own essay, I’m just going to clarify a few important things:
- In Evita, Eva is the 15-year-old mistress of tango singer Augustín Magaldi (“the sentimental voice of Buenos Aires”) and he brings her to the city. Several years later, they run into each other again at a charity fund-raiser, where makes rude remarks about her. However, there is no evidence that Eva and Magaldi ever met. Magaldi never went to her hometown and was known to travel with his wife. Magaldi also died several years before the fund-raiser portrayed here, so that couldn’t have happened, either.
TANGENT: Augustin Magaldi was incredibly talented and worth a listen. It’s such a shame that his whole Wikipedia page is about how Evita is historically inaccurate instead of his actual life.
- Eva Perón and Ernesto “Ché” Guevara never met, although Guevara did once write her a sarcastic letter, asking her to buy him a motorcycle… which I must say is certainly on-brand.
TANGENT: For an excellent essay on how to historically analyze Evita, read this.
In 1997, the Chicago Tribune ran an article in which Argentinean-Americans warned audiences not to see the film adaptation of Evita for reasons of not just historical accuracy, but also blatant sexism. Which brings me to my next point…
Think about it for a moment. Evita is literally just a musical where an everyman (Ché) bitches about a confident, sexually self-assured woman for two hours. He claims that she has no politics of her own, just a desire for fame, and that she made it entirely to “the top” on her back. (‘Do all your one night stands give you this trouble?’)
In “Oh What a Circus“, Ché sings ‘She didn’t say much but she said it loud.’ Uh, I’m sorry, the woman who went on a world tour as a public speaker ‘didn’t say much’? Riiiight.
In “Eva Beware of the City“, Ché lectures Eva on her ambition, ‘hungry and cold, can’t be controlled’, because ‘this in a man is danger enough, but you are a woman / not even a woman, not very much more than a child.’ Nice. We’re barely into Evita and they’ve already sexualized young girls and criticized them for daring to have determination.
It’s also worth mentioning that there’s that infamous ‘I tasted it last night, didn’t I?’ line in this song. You know, the one where they imply that Eva Perón orally stimulated Ché Guevara’s phallic member – and may I say how relieved I was when one of my friends brought this up before I did. This raises several questions: Did Eva and Ché mess around when he seventeen years old or younger? Are they establishing that Eva and Ché were lovers? In Evita? In real life? In a populous country and a huge city where it would be unlikely they had ever met on top of the fact that historically they never did? Actually, I want none of these questions answered. Please don’t answer these questions.
On that note, the double entendres in Evita are so gross and they just never stop. I mean damn, Tim Rice, you’re giving Hairspray such a run for its money. It takes a True Pervert to beat a John Waters-inspired musical at its own game. Good god, man, ‘do up your trousers and go.’
“High Flying Adored” has some pretty nasty sexism and innuendo in it, too. Here Eva is referred to as ‘A rich beautiful thing, of all the talents / A cross between a fantasy of the bedroom and a saint’ and ‘a backstreet girl.’ Ew.
In “Rainbow Tour“, once more Eva is referred to solely by her looks – ‘Prettier than general Franco’?? PRETTIER??? Tim Rice writes about her like she never even SPOKE on her diplomatic speaking tour. Additionally, they try to make a comedic moment out of Eva being upset at being called a “whore”.
But it is “Goodnight and Thank You” that takes the cake when it comes to sexism. “Slut Shaming: The Song” claims that Eva slept her way to the top of the entertainment industry. But that’s a sexist premise: the victims of systems that sexually exploit female entertainers are not the men involved. Even if it were true that Eva achieved her success through sexual exploits, she would have been behaving within a system where positions of power were assigned to men. Specifically, men who reduced her to her sexuality. Even if she was acting in a manipulative fashion out of her own ambition, I see basically no shaming within Evita of the men involved, who were certainly being immoral if not completely predatory.
Webber and Rice try to cover their misogyny all up by throwing in that atrocious and awkward ‘never has been and never will be a lover / MALE OR FEEEMALE‘ bit. It’s ineffective to say the least.
This all brings me to something crucial: the plot of Evita doesn’t make any sense if you attempt to think critically about it. Historical accuracy aside, the narrative just doesn’t stand on its own.
What would Eva gain by marrying a low-ranking general in the military? What fame or fortune does that really bring her? If anyone was more famous between the two of them before they were married, I think it would be her. Right? She was a radio star. This is lazy, misogynistic writing at its finest. Ché’s whole argument for why Eva should not be praised is not based in her politics or her celebrity but is instead a misogynistic ad hominem – which, by the way, does not reflect kindly on Argentineans or Latinx folks in general.
Slut-shaming aside, in real life The Female Perónist party allowed for twice the amount of Argentinean women to attend university. In 1951, the first elections in which women could run for office, seven female senators were elected, making Argentina the country with the most women representing in the government in the entire world. It also established women’s centers (many in poor neighborhoods), which provided Argentinean women with legal, medical, and social services. Eva Perón directly led to the success of women’s suffrage and feminism in Argentina. How appalling to take a woman’s entire legacy, a legacy interlaced with political process, feminism, and charity, and wittle it down to just her sexuality.
Despite all of this historical context, Evita doesn’t touch on gender much at all except for one or two throwaway lines like ‘Argentine men call the sexual shots’. Considering the subject matter, some of which I’ve hardly even touched such as the topic of Eva’s father, this is complete nonsense. Gender is the most basic form of social study, and should be considered in any historical narrative – especially one set in Argentina, where gender was at the time and is still such a hot topic.
In researching this essay, I enjoyed reading Meagan Clearwood’s “The White Supremacy & Male Gaze of ‘Evita’” and thought this quote so succinctly summarized Evita‘s biggest flaw:
“Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical is not an homage to one of Argentina’s most beloved, if controversial, historical figures, nor is it an objective biography or an attempt to wrestle with complex political ideals. Evita strips Eva Perón of her nuance so that, at her most interesting, she is an embodiment of the virgin-whore complex rather than a human being.”
It’s also worth mentioning that the only other explicitly female character in the show other than Eva is Perón’s Mistress – and she’s supposed to be another precocious teenage girl who sleeps around. Thanks, I hate it. But let’s move on.
Racism Part I: Cultural Misappropriation
Uh oh, I touched the phrase no one wants to touch: the dreaded Cultural Appropriation. I can picture furious diatribes already flooding the comments section, something along the lines of “reeeeeeee”. But, please, let me explain.
Cultural appropriation is, academically speaking, a neutral term. This means that it requires context to analyze and is not something to automatically demonize without that context. Cultures steal from each other all the time. But, as a general rule of thumb, it is inarguably inappropriate for traditionally colonizing cultures, like England, to steal from cultures that have been historically colonialized, like Argentina.
England and Argentina, in particular, have a notably sordid history, especially regarding the Falkland Islands. This hasn’t really changed. Relations are currently strained and have been for a long time. So, if you’re English, it’s probably a good idea to stay out of Argentine politics. And also, maybe don’t write a musical slut-shaming their former first lady.
It would be conceivable, based on the content of Evita, to claim that Webber and Rice were purposefully attempting to aggravate Argentineans but it seems that Tim Rice has some sincere albeit misguided love and admiration for Argentina. He claims to have spent some time in Buenos Aires researching Evita and remembered seeing Eva Perón on stamps from Argentina as a child. Perhaps he’s not very good at expressing his love for this culture, but I think we should probably believe that he’s being honest when he says that Evita is his personal favorite of the shows he’s worked on.
“We have not been associated with a better show.” – Tim Rice
Still, it is questionable that Eva Perón and Ché are so rarely played by people of color or people from Argentina. So often I see the excuse that Evita is a fine production for anyone to perform because Argentina, much like the United States, has a population comprised mostly of immigrants or people who come from immigrant families somewhere along the line. Upon recently visiting Ellis Island, I saw many pieces citing Buenos Aires as having had a “melting pot” mentality (“crisol de razas”).
But this doesn’t change the fact that 97.2% of Argentineans are of Spanish, Italian, or mestizo/Amerindian ancestry and many consider themselves part of a distinct ethnicity. It also goes without saying that, in North America and Europe, most Argentineans would fall under the umbrella term “Latinx”.
Lauran Villegas, activist and founder of Project Am I Right, which seeks to “end the whitewashing of roles written for people of color, people with disabilities, transgender, and gender non-conforming people” writes…
“By their very nature, Latinx people are a complex mix of ethnic groups from indigenous American peoples who survived genocide, African peoples who survived slavery, and European colonizers… It is a culture that deserves to be protected from appropriation as much as any other.”
Indeed, I’m far from the first one to make this argument, but perhaps it isn’t entirely appropriate for Latin American icons to so frequently be played by non-Latinx people, especially those who had express issues with American imperialism, like Ché Guevara… but we’ll get to that later. The semi-recent, highly-publicized casting of Argentinean Elena Roger as Eva is definitely a step in the right direction but that doesn’t mean Evita is worth reviving.
Racism Part II: The Invalidation of Latin American Emotionality
Evita opens with “Requiem for Evita“, a dark and gloomy piece showcasing a scene of chaos and anguish unfolding inside a cinema on the day Evita, herself, dies. But suddenly, at the height of this panic and torment, we transition to “Oh What a Circus“, that lighthearted little tune with heaping sarcasm. Webber and Rice try to suddenly brighten the doomed mood they’ve created by doing a tonal 180 into comedic cynicism.
But is the requiem for Evita ‘crying, hysterical sorrow’ in which the characters have ‘all gone crazy / mourning all day and mourning all night / falling over ourselves to get all of the misery right’?
TANGENT: Nice word choice with ‘hysterical’, by the way, Tim. That is not a gendered term at all…
I get the feeling Webber and Rice would never write this exact scene with Princess Diana in Evita’s place. It would be considered insensitive, distasteful, and probably even cruel. So why is it painted comedic for Ché to de-legitimize a nation’s grief?
In my opinion, this scene transition condescendingly invalidates the agony the Argentineans are feeling in this narrative right off the bat. I think audiences are open to it, however, because this story is inherently Latin American – and the way Latin American people express emotion is constantly invalidated worldwide.
“Latin America Boasts the World’s Most Emotional Nations”, Time magazine declares, pointing to evidence from a poll that asked people worldwide how many feelings they experienced in a day. The Washington Post concedes:
“Latin America leads the world when it comes to positive emotions, with Panama, Paraguay, and Venezuela at the top of that list. Yes, even … Venezuela is apparently filled with happy people.”
There is a recent uptick of interest in the melodrama of telenovelas, for example (Funny or Die is currently going viral with their series “Telenovelas are Hell”), and much of the fandom is obviously all in good fun, but there is a darker underbelly to stereotyping all Latin Americans as “overemotional”. In making fun of melodramatic self-expression we are in danger of invalidating the way Latinx people express their emotions not just through media but also in daily life. What Webber and Rice are essentially doing with “Oh What a Circus“, and other sardonic fragments of Evita, is lampshading. They’re saying “Our Latin American narrative is more legitimate because we’ve done away with all that silly feelings stuff you see elsewhere!”
But embracing cultural differences in terms of emotionality threatens to take the audience out of the moment, right? After all, how are Broadway viewers supposed to suspend their disbelief when it comes to feelings? Sure, this is a non-diegetic musical where the proletariat of Argentina burst into song and Ché Guevara can be seen waltzing around the stage, but asking North Americans to have a little cultural perspective is wayyyy too far!
Speaking of which…
Racism Part III: Cultural Imperialism (and Ché Guevara)
In complete honesty, I read Ché Guevara’s memoir, The Motorcycle Diaries, this past summer. Through it, I learned that Ernesto “Ché” Guevara earned his nickname from Fidel Castro and the likes because, as a nervous habit, he’d repeat the Argentine-Spanish interjection “Ché, ché, ché…” to get people’s attention. For the rest of us who don’t speak the Argentine-Spanish dialect, imagine if an English speaker were to say “Dude, dude, dude…” to focus the conversation and earned the nickname “Dude”.
So I get it if this character is just a young Argentinean man. But, if that’s the case, why is he aged exactly 17-24? Why does Eva tell him to follow his ideals off to another country to make a change, ‘but not here, dear’? And why is he usually dressed like this?
In case you hadn’t heard, Ché Guevara has kind of a recognizable face. In fact, his portrait is the most reproduced image in the history of photography. I was at Whitney Museum of American Art in NYC recently, in 2018, checking out the Andy Warhol stuff, and they even had this button:
Funny enough, Andy Warhol never painted Ché. However, when he caught wind of a fraud pop art painting portraying Ché he “authenticated” it. In my opinion, if Warhol was interested in making bank on the sheer draw of your celebrity, you were iconic. So let’s not even get into this whole “Evita‘s Ché is actually just a generic Argentinean guy” argument because it makes no sense.
If you’re writing an everyman Argentinean character separate of Ché, there are plenty of tried and true classically Argentine names to choose from: Santiago. Franco. Mauro. Lucas. But I’m pretty sure Webber and Rice, much like Andy Warhol, wanted to draw from Ché’s celebrity without putting any real thought into his legacy. You could almost say they were exploiting a Latinx man for financial reasons or reducing him to his sex appeal. Never seen that done before…
The legacy of so-called Chévolution (Ché Guevara in relation to his iconography, particularly Guerrillero Heroico), is a topic for another far less comedic and far more academic essay. But I will say this: Ernesto “Ché” Guevara was a real person, and if Evita‘s Ché is Ché Guevara, they’re not only pissing all over him as a person but also everything he stood for.
Even from an objective perspective, Ché Guevara was an overtly political person. He traversed the world looking to get involved in revolution – notably in Cuba, then in the Republic of the Congo, and then again in Bolivia. He was a military strategist, served as Cuban minister of industries, instituted a nationwide literacy campaign, and was a prolific writer. He basically singlehandedly repelled the Bay of Pigs invasion and brought Soviet nuclear missiles to Cuba. And what does Tim Rice call him? ‘Opportunist, traitor, fool / Or just a man who grew and saw from 17 to 24 / His country bled, crucified / She’s not the only one who’s died.’
Now that’s a circus. My biggest issue with this lyric? Ché Guevara was radicalized by traveling Latin America, coming to see it as an inherently interconnected region devastated by overarching issues, not by staying in Argentina.
If Webber and Rice were going to use such a controversial figure in Evita, they could have at least made a statement about him. But they, in a move so ironically cowardly, they do not take a stand.
On that note, allow me to put on my best, most determined socialist scowl for a moment: there is a lot in this score that reeks of cultural imperialism. I know that it’s the bourgeoisie who can afford to attend Broadway and therefore they almost definitely control the content, but Webber and Rice, intentionally or not, impose British and North American culture on Argentina through Evita. They promote cultural hegemony in that smug, obnoxiously lofty way: they admire and want to employ how stereotypically “dramatic” or “rock n’ roll” Argentine culture is, but at the same time they treat Argentina as being lesser than other nations.
“We’ve made the front page of all the world’s papers today!” Ché announces at the top of the show as if worldwide media attention should be a priority. But it doesn’t stop there. When Eva is first arriving to Buenos Aires, she’s warned to stay away from the B.A. (Buenos Aires, Big Apple, get it???) and city living is framed as inherently undesirable. In many parts of the world, including the United States and much of Europe, it’s common to see these stories where characters want to ditch big cities for their own private slice of heaven somewhere smaller. Somewhere That’s Green, you might even say.
“Them streets down there, they sucked the life right outta my old man. Well they ain’t doin’ that to me! You keep your small life in the big city. Give me a big life in a small town.” – leading man Jack Kelly in “Newsies”
In the context of Argentina, however, where many in the colonial period signed on as conquistadors in hopes of becoming hidalgos, others initially immigrated in search of a desirably cosmopolitan place to live, and “pueblo chico, infierno grande” (small town, big hell) is a common expression, this makes zero sense and is a damning indication of the sloppy research. Locations carry context. You can’t arbitrarily set a story in any location you choose without understanding the cultural implications of that setting. Making Buenos Aires a metaphor for New York City when Buenos Aires is its own thing already, in terms of immigration history as well as cultural context, is the epitome of Evita‘s lazy writing and careless imperialist attitude.
“But wait!” you, the reader, argue, “These are all new social ideas and no one knew any of this in the 1970s when Evita was initially released!”
Keep telling yourself that if it helps you sleep better at night, but there are flaws with Evita beyond its sexism and racism. In the storytelling department, Evita doesn’t fare much better. Shall we?
Flat Characters, Ill-Defined Arcs
Let’s say that, despite the fact that this musical should be political, we approach Evita as a solely interpersonal drama. How does it fare? How do the character arcs hold up, and what are the interpersonal relationships between characters? Does anyone really learn anything? Does Eva learn that the valuable things in life are immaterial? Does Ché change from an openhearted idealist to a heartbroken renegade? Is Juan changed by his wife’s death – does she teach him anything about holding public office? Do Eva and Juan grow from the time they spend together, as people or in their shared intimacy? Is there conflict in their marriage? Does Perón’s Mistress find out ‘what happens now’ or ‘where she’s going to’?
Yeah, no to all of the above. Those things might happen in an interesting musical, but in this one, the arcs are all lifeless. Between characters, there is little conflict or resolution.
- Ché begins as a cynic, and after watching the regime rise and fall… ends up a cynic.
- Eva begins as an ambitious young woman, and after becoming successful and famous… ends up dead for completely unrelated reasons.
- We see a few characters once or twice… and they contribute virtually nothing (the Mistress, Magaldi)
- Eva and Juan meet, fall in love… and stay in love.
Perhaps worst of all is the fact that the middle class and even impoverished characters have no named representation other than Ché despite the political conflict essentially revolving around them. Almost all of the characters in Evita are elites and the only one who isn’t is iconic in his own right. This is especially ironic considering that Eva Perón, historically, spoke with what was considered to be a “low-class” accent and was often made fun of for mispronouncing words.
Now let’s get to what you’ve been waiting for…
Out of context, some of these pop songs are pretty solid. I’d argue that “You Must Love Me“, “Another Suitcase in Another Hall“, “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You” (my personal favorite, admittedly), and, of course, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” are all toe-tappable. Georgia is admittedly a fan of “Rainbow High”.
But with that said, when the music is awful, it’s 100% repulsive.
There is a difference between haunting and ugly. I’m sorry. I get the feeling Andrew Lloyd Webber likes to play with dissonance just because Sondheim can do it really well and he feels like as a musical composer he should. But blatant dissonance doesn’t vibe with this pop-rock vibe he usually has going on. And you know it’s bad when even the professionals can’t make it sound good. Let’s talk about a few especially egregious musicals numbers present…
“Goodnight and Thank You“, even with the sexism aside, is likely defined by the United Nations as “cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment”. It is essentially two separate songs pasted together sloppily but the part that isn’t a pre-established melody (around the 0:45 mark) is atrocious.
NITPICK: Correct me if I’m wrong but I believe in terms of grammar “Argentine” refers to something from Argentina and “Argentinean” refers to someone from Argentina. Therefore, shouldn’t the lyric be ‘Argentinean men call the sexual shots’? I think this particular grammatical issue shows up in Evita a few times but in this song it’s especially irritating.
Real talk: What in the actual hell is the violin doing in “The Art of the Possible“?? When I heard it live I had two theories:
- The violinist was fooling around.
- They gave a violin to someone who couldn’t play the violin.
I thought that such a lazy attempt at dissonance couldn’t really be in the score. But, since such a lazy attempt at dissonance is really in the score, props to that violinist. I bet they played it perfectly.
Violin aside, this song is just insulting. I can’t believe it exists. I can’t believe that someone thought it was good writing to compare an entire nation’s system of government to a child’s game of musical chairs. It infantilizes the people of Argentina in a bafflingly tone-deaf moment, which is funny because it actually shows that Webber and Rice have no idea how the mid-century politics of Argentina even worked. They also use a quote by Otto von Bismark of all people to commentate. What, actual President of Argentina Juan Perón not quotable enough for you or something? Or is this just another one of those weird moments of blatant imperialism?
Have you ever wanted to hear a song that is just four whole minutes of word-vomit exposition and jargon? Then “A New Argentina” is for you!
“I got to sing ‘votes for women’! That was my part. ‘Larger doles’ was my friend’s solo and he was so proud.” – Georgia MacNaughton
“It’s a patter song, you ignorant fool!” someone currently types, “You obviously know nothing about Ye Olde Theatre Traditionale! Go back to pre-school!”
But that’s where you’re wrong, pal. Patter songs are quick, energetic songs that have rapid-fire/stream-of-consciousness lyrics to reflect the mental state of the character. It also usually happens up-front to introduce a character or in the 11th hour of the show. “A New Argentina” is a list, sure, but it’s also painfully slow-moving and closes the first act.
It should also be mentioned that every single Eva sounds bad singing those high notes – even Patti LuPone! No shame on anyone’s vocal range, but come on. We’re not asking you to sing the Queen of the Night’s “Der Hölle Rache” Aria here, we’re asking you to sing an E5. Is that really unreasonable for most mezzo-sopranos? They drop it down about an octave for Madonna. That seems ridiculous to me.
I can’t put my finger on exactly why but “Rainbow Tour” is so twee but I hate it. Ché straight-up has the affectation of Never Shout Never’s Christofer Drew or Cute is What We Aim For’s Shaant Hacikyan. I have two questions:
- Why is the word “tour” 3 whole syllables long?
- Why is the French bit of “Rainbow Tour” so insufferably regal musically when compared to the stuff in Buenos Aires? Ugh, nevermind, I already know the answer.
Other Strange Musical Moments in the Score
- There is a bit in “High Flying Adored” that sounds exactly like Coldplay’s “Clocks” – which is funny considering that Andrew Lloyd Webber has so often been accused of plagiarism.
- Sorry, Georgia, but I personally find “Rainbow High” weird and agonizingly on-the-nose at points: ‘Hands! Magic!’ (Hands? Magic??), ‘I’m a product/It’s vital you sell me’ (sheer cringe). On the subject of this song, there is a great post about the line ‘Christian Dior me’ and fashion mistakes in Evita.
- The problem with “And the Money Kept Rolling In (And Out)” is obvious. They try to villainize Eva helping the poor. Oh no, she gave them money and made their wishes come true…? “Would you like to try a college education?” Dude, are you shaming women for wanting to go to college right now?
On Tango (And Mambo, and Salsa, and Samba, and Even More Misappropriation)
I’ve heard the more recent recordings of this score, and I’ve heard the Madonna album, but the addition of a few accordions (I’m pretty sure they’re not bandoneóns) and classical guitars doesn’t change your entire composition. Here’s the issue:
“Buenos Aires is the only song in the soundtrack that sounds vaguely Latin and it’s still pretty weak. Also, a mambo. Literally Cuban.” – Lucas Gutiérrez-Robert
Look, I’m no music historian, but I’ve played cello for over 10 years now and subsequently, unlike the girl in that old jazz standard, I can tell a waltz from a tango. I am also lowkey a huge Raúl Garello fangirl.
The appeal of tango, mambo, salsa, etc is easy to hear. In the words of the devil’s best homewrecker herself, Damn Yankees‘ own Lola… “who’s got the pain when they do the mambo?” However, I think it’s safe to say that the world of musical theatre has a strange history of misappropriation that often relates to this whole “Tango is sexy but I don’t give a damn about Argentina” thing. Andrew Lloyd Webber even arbitrarily put tango dancers in his awful Phantom of the Opera film despite the fact that “The Point of No Return” is in no way and never will be a tango.
Fact is, as composer Mel Atkey points out in his book A Million Miles from Broadway – Musical Theatre Beyond New York and London, tango was, traditionally, “the anthem of the proletariat”. Historically, tango was embraced by what Evita would refer to as “descamisados”: it was born in port-area brothels and bars where intermingling indigenous, slave and European immigrant populations went dancing. It was later known as the favorite music of gangsters in Buenos Aires. However, what most North Americans perceive as “tango” is not traditional Argentine tango. For most of the 20th century, before CDs helped to globalize popular music, most “tango” was heard on Broadway a la “Hernando’s Hideaway” in The Pajama Game.
There is a clear difference between “authentic” tango and “Broadway” tango – “authentic” tango has louder, more aggressive strings, a strong 4/4 stomp, and, of course, those bandoneóns prominently featured. “Broadway” tango tends to be more… cha-cha-chá (which, again, is Cuban, but okay). Some shows acknowledge this history, like “The Cell Block Tango” (Chicago), which at its heart (Hart?) is staged as a vaudeville variety piece. “I Am Aldolpho” (The Drowsy Chaperone) is a parody of this trend. Others acknowledge the cross-section of “popular” tango and “Buenos Aires” tango, like “El Tango Roxanne” (Moulin Rouge!), which borrows from Broadway/French cabaret instrumentation (and The Police, of course) while also sampling Mariano Mores’ Argentine tune “Tanguera”.
And hate me for praising Moulin Rouge! all you want.
Other shows just kind of use tango (or any vaguely Latin-sounding composition that they’ll nonetheless call a tango) as a lame gimmick. Rent, for example, has The “Tango: Maureen”, called so because ‘when you’re dancing her dance / you don’t stand a chance’. Except the “Tango: Maureen” is actually a salsa, or maybe mambo, not a tango.
Songs that fall into this category in terms of music and/or choreography, like “(The Legend of) Miss Baltimore Crabs” (Hairspray), “All You Have to Do is Wait” (City of Angels), “Brain Dead” (A New Brain) or “Mushnik and Son” (Little Shop of Horrors), shamelessly misappropriate the appeal of Argentine tango without the cultural/political context. I would say Evita falls into this category. You can’t have it both ways, Broadway: Either Broadway “owns” tango because it has its own history there, and is popular music, or it’s “sexy” because it’s from Argentina.
If you’re interested in an in-depth history and analysis of this topic, please read The Tango in the United States: A History by Carlos G. Groppa, which I read a few years ago myself because, believe it or not, I’m a massive nerd.
“The most frustrating thing about Evita’s music is that rock n’ roll is big in Argentina. Andrew Lloyd Webber could have just written a rock opera, no tango, and it would have been fine.” – Lucas Gutiérrez-Robert
The Bottom Line, Musically
Sure, “the personal is political”, but Evita attempts to make the political personal and that is extremely disrespectful. Cute, harmless pop music on the subject of Eva Perón not only brings disgrace to the historical figures in Evita, and not only to the people of Argentina/the world who were/are affected by these real events, but to political discourse and process.
“Andrew Lloyd Webber can suck my dick from the back. Please quote me on that.” – Lucas Gutiérrez-Robert
So what is the relevancy of Evita today? Well, for starters, Patti LuPone belted Don’t Cry For Me Argentina at the 2018 Grammy’s (which only makes such a disastrous evening seem worse in retrospect). The performance was quite well-received.
Yes, unlike a lot of its widely-mocked contemporaries like Cats or Miss Saigon, Evita seems to be quite fondly remembered. In fact, Evita is Donald Trump’s favorite musical.
Some people find this fact surprising. Me, I think it’s a rather fitting selection for him considering the racism, misogyny, and clear misunderstandings of political process – as well as the oft-used gaudy blonde wigs.
Perhaps, then, it makes sense that Melania Trump has been compared to Eva Perón on a few occasions. Sure, they’re both first ladies who dress well, but the distinction between them seems obvious to me: Melania trump wore this to meet immigrant children at the Texas border. Remember?
In conclusion, I have come to realize since that no single production of Evita will ever be good, despite a few catchy songs and interesting historical subject matter, because the source material cannot be fixed. Evita is long overdue to be cried over and then promptly forgot.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, we must be honest, stop fooling ourselves…
Which means “up yours.”