Through the years of seeing nearly a hundred productions of Evita, and talking to hundreds of people, one thing is clear: your favorite cast is usually the first one you saw. To some degree, that is true with me.

I spent weeks with the Broadway cast during its out of town tour and you appreciate the nuances more when you've seen them evolve--in performances, the increasing smoothness of the crew's operation, the refining of choreography and costumes. In many ways, that company and crew will always represent Evita to me. Yet my journalist's training and a lifetime of theatregoing has hopefully given me a certain objectivity.

The first question people usually ask is "who is your favorite Evita/Che/Perón/whatever?" Talk about a loaded question. I'll answer it this way. Elaine's sheer energy and force onstage gave me the sense of what the real Eva Perón must have had to do to accomplish what she did. Elaine was a bundle of dynamite onstage and you thought she would explode at any moment. She and Julie Covington probably sang the score with more clarity and crispness than any other Evitas.

The Peróns--this one's easy. Two words. Bob Gunton. He conveys more with his back to the audience than most actors do facing it. His wonderful mix of power and weakness was perfection. Nobody's done it better.

The Ches--also easy. I have never cared for Hal's hysterical, spitting take on Che. Mandy is a tremendous talent, and his 'High Flying, Adored' and 'Peron's Latest Flame' were superb. But my favorite? Patxi Andion in Madrid. He argued the case like the educated man Guevara was. You saw Eva, then he told you what was wrong with this picture, all the while his smoldering eyes told you of his passion to come in other places. In the Hal Prince-driected companies, I especially enjoyed John Herrera and Tim Bowman. In Vienna (and later in Germany), the show suffered from a bad translation. But Alexander Goebel re-translated his part and delighted in playing with the audiences who seemed unable to deal with Eva Perón as a character, but he forced them to. Fascinating performance.

Now the rest of the Evitas: Patti--oh, what to say about Patti's Evita? Dynamic, charismatic, powerful--needy, psychotic, frightened. She was an Evita to be reckoned with. Her struggle to 'get it right' equaled Eva's. But oh, that night in San Francisco when it all came together! And remember Patti's 'Don't Cry for Me' on the Grammys? Sheer perfection. She can and has always delivered that song in a way unequaled by anyone else.

Flo Lacey's Evita was magical. Her capability of totally changing her voice from first act to second was amazing. She gained ten years in experience and maturity during intermission, as Eva must have. I could watch Flo do Evita endlessly (and have) without tiring of her interpretation. Valerie Perri was one of the youngest Evitas and always effective, she has grown even more beautifully into the role as she's done it around the country during the 90s.

The Two Mexico City Evitas, Roccio Banquells and Valeria Lynch (the first Argentine-born actress to play the role) brought a wonderful Latin flavor to the piece and the rest of the cast was excellent. Remarkably, Akiko Kuno in Japan exhibited a real understanding of the woman she was playing and her performance was stunning.

But nothing will ever match the thrill of the Madrid cast. Paloma San Basilio--with no formal training in acting--her Evita sliced through the air of the Teatro Monumental like a knife. I saw many people in the audience whose hands gripped the arms of their seats so tight during her balcony speech that their knuckles turned white. Her young Eva was skittish as a colt, and during 'The Money Keeps Rolling In,' the staging had huge crowds pressing against her during the 'freezes' nearly pushing her off the stage, and in her eyes, you could see the panic Eva must have felt sometimes: 'Have I created a monster?' The superb orchestrations (by an Argentine) and hearing the story sung in the language in which it was lived was wrenching.

But the London production--with its Britishness--was also great. The British were a huge presence in Argentina before Perón and the audiences there, unlike those at first in America, at least knew who those people on the stage really were. There was always the flavor of 'the sun never sets on the British Empire' about the company at the Prince Edward and it felt right.

My favorite Evita moment? Stranded in Venice during an Italian railway strike while enroute from seeing the Viennese to the Spanish productions, a conductor walking down the platform singing--in Italian--'Don't Cry for Me, Agentina.'

Through dozens of countries and tens of thousands of performances, Evita is one of those near-perfect shows. Actor-proof, critic-proof. It always works.

Whom have I left out? It's been a long 22 years. From world capitals to Hollywood High and Santa Monica City College where they did the Requiem with a dozen crosses suspended in the air over a cemetery. And to each and every actor in every performance I have seen, you have brought your very special magic to the show and I thank you all.

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© 2000