Sunday, October 28, 2007

Review: Evita the Musical

Tonight (Saturday, 10/27) I saw Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita for the first time at CUA. While my future reviews will hopefully be longer, more in-depth, and more coherent, here is my first (late-night) attempt.

Note: I am reviewing the writing of the show itself, and not the performers for this particular show, unless otherwise noted.

The best aspect of this piece is that Evita herself comes across as one of those rare characters that successfully pull off an ambiguous character. She is honorable, admirable, and "of the people," but at the same time she is manipulative, materialistic, and at times selfish. This sort of ambiguous character is difficult to create, and difficult to become emotionally attached to; however, I am even more attracted to this type of character than the typical "good guy" lead (Curly) or the strangely fascinating "bad guy" (Sweeney Todd). Both Judas from J.C. Superstar and The Phantom are other great examples of Webber's sensitivity to an audience's desire for such richly developed characters. At times, though, I find myself wishing that his musical ideas would embrace that same bold, category-defying spirit.

I was most intrigued by the use of a "recitative-like" method for dialouge in this piece. Largely because of the tight transitions between sections, Evita represents one of the more successful approaches to a through-composed musical. Unfortunately, while Webber has an undeniable talent for spinning out memorable, tuneful "set piece" songs, his drawn-out melodies and very regular phrases break the first rule of successful recitative: set it clearly, and get it over with! I certainly sympathize, as my own efforts of recitative have also tended to run much longer than necessary. I believe this musical would be greatly improved, particularly in terms of pacing and structure, if the dialogue sections took an average of 50-70% of its current length. The same lyrics could still be set, but simply more quickly.

For a final note, the ending - there is none! Evita dies, Che says a few hurried phrases about her burial, and then... nothing. I realize that not every show needs to end with a large-scale ensemble number, but I do believe that they need a very specific, intentional ending, be it positive, negative, or ambiguous. Evita, on the other hand, ends with a small fragment of lines, which typically function as plot-driving, "throw-away" musical material in the rest of the piece. As this dialogue/recitative is not Webber's forte in the first place, it results in a sloppy, unsatisfying ending.

Overall, seeing Evita was a positive experience if only to say that I have now experienced it. It certainly has its shortcomings in my view, though, which can be just as instructive for developing composers as extremely effective works.

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