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(Best sung to “Rainbow Tour”)
Argentina never saw such a clamor
As when dear Evita said her last goodbye.
Nobody ever thought their favorite saint could die.
But despite the Rainbow Tour and the glamor,
There was a time when this national treasure
Was unknown.
Eva Duarte fled the life the poor carries
And found ways of earning more than simple bread,
Exchanging her partners for a higher bed.
As the premier actress in Buenos Aires,
At last she was introduced to
Juan Peron.
Though Eva wasn’t well-received
By most of the Argentine elite.
She made it clear that the people believed
That she still was for them from her loftier seat.
Governments in Argentina were not known
For being very stable over many years.
Peron was soon imprisoned by his fellow peers.
Eva and her devotees then freed Peron
And her influence just kept growing
All the time.
All her talk and stabs at granting some wishes
Did not change the status of the lowly poor
Or that her opponents thought she was a whore.
Aspirations proved a bit too ambitious;
Her body just couldn’t keep going
Past its prime.
Though Eva had a humble past
And a dubious rise to wealth and fame,
Her early death left the nation aghast.
Argentina would not evermore be the same.

Before Andrew Lloyd Webber found success with Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, and long before Tim Rice contributed splendid lyrics to Aladdin and The Lion King, they collaborated to create Evita, one of my favorite musicals of all time. Whereas Phantom has an overall operatic sensibility that indulges in some electric guitar here and there, Evita is much more of a rock opera, with very little spoken dialogue and a number of distinct but interweaving tunes, ranging from head-banging anthems to plaintive Latin elegies.

This film version was a revelation in several ways. In addition to being a lavish production that enhanced the impact of nearly every song, it marked the pinnacle of Madonna’s professional career, winning her a Golden Globe for Best Actress. Casting the “Material Girl” in the title role may have been an iffy decision, but she embodied the character’s dichotomy of sleaze and sensitivity. Though her voice may not be as strong as that of the original Evita’s Patti LuPone, she nails each melody and affords more vulnerability in songs like “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.” In addition to Madonna’s acting high, the film revealed, at least to me, that Antonio Banderas (not to mention Jonathan Pryce) could sing. As the everyman Che who follows Eva throughout her life, Banderas provides cynical commentary on her rise to power and often represents the Argentine people in general, well-symbolized by their tango toward the end. Pryce is also excellent as Peron, although he looks inexplicably bored in certain scenes. Though Evita’s alleged sexual escapades are described in song, I appreciate that the filmmakers didn’t feel it necessary to depict them in graphic detail, choosing instead the more artistic motif of a light going out, later echoed in Eva’s death scene.

My favorite songs would have to be “Oh, What a Circus,” “Goodnight and Thank You,” “The Lady’s Got Potential,” “A New Argentina,” “And the Money Kept Rolling In,” “Rainbow High,” and of course, “Rainbow Tour.” My VC is also quite fond of “High Flying, Adored,” which is one of a series of five great songs in a row. A song added for the film, “You Must Love Me” also won the Best Original Song Oscar that year. The songs are enjoyable to listen and sing along to on their own, but the film’s pageant and cast of thousands give it added depth and spectacle that make up for the moral and political deficiencies of the characters.

Though oppressive mournfulness causes the beginning and end to drag, and I can’t really relate to such outward grief at the death of a politician (seriously, even if my favorite public figure died today, I doubt I would be moved to such uninhibited tears), Evita is a grand and poignant history lesson. With exquisite acting and singing, Lloyd Webber’s earbugging melodies, and some of the finest lyrics of Tim Rice’s career, Evita marks one of the high points in musical cinema.

Best line: (Eva, to Magaldi, a former flame who sings the same song repeatedly) “Your act hasn’t changed much.”  (Magaldi, noting her new lover) “Neither has yours.”

VC’s best line: (Eva) “Sometimes it’s very difficult to keep momentum when it’s you that you are following.”

VC’s other best line: (Eva) “I came from the people. They need to adore me, so Christian Dior me from my head to my toes. I need to be dazzling. I want to be rainbow high! They must have excitement—and so must I!”

Rank: 57 out of 60

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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