Don't Cry for Me, Donna Karan

A famous movie composer once told me a joke: Two songwriters are sitting around and one of them says to the other, "I just saw the most amazing thing. A man fell off the roof of a building, hit a ledge, fell to the street, got winged by a bus and run over by a car -- and he's completely unhurt. What a lucky guy!"

"No, no, no," answers the other songwriter. "You know who's lucky? Andrew Lloyd Webber is lucky."

This preamble is by way of explaining that I've never gotten Webber either. I dutifully trudged off to Phantom of the Opera (great chandelier) and Sunset Boulevard (I prefer the movie), but with Evita I got as far as the Patti LuPone-Mandy Patinkin cast album (great voices, weak material). Since Evita started out in 1976 as a concept album -- it was staged two years later -- my cultural loss would not appear to be total.

Well, you can run but you can't hide. Now there's Evita: The Movie. Starring Madonna. Soon to be followed by Evita: The Fashions. According to my press notes, writer-director Alan (Pink Floyd -- The Wall) Parker submitted to Webber and his lyricist Tim Rice 146 changes to the original score -- far fewer than Madonna's costume changes. Will the Madonna/Evita Power Glamour look take hold? Retailers are banking on peplum suits by Tahari, lace separates by Jill Stuart, tango dresses by Nicole Miller, and authentic Peron shoes by Salvatore Ferragamo. Be there or be square.

Evita has had so much prescreening buzz that the film itself seems like yet another excuse for more buzz. Will it make Madonna a movie star -- finally? So many people want her to be one that this bellicose pseudo-opera might just do the trick. In the modern movie era, if you hit the right media buttons often enough you become a star almost by fiat. (Did you happen to catch Madonna's "diaries" in the November Vanity Fair?) The role of Evita is a starmaker all right, but Madonna, even when she's belting out numbers from the balcony, is curiously recessive. She's not bad when she's playing the early Eva -- that is to say, when she's scrounging and sleeping her way to the top -- but she's fairly blank when she has to look caring and devotional and toss baubles to the poor and expire like Camille. As an actress Madonna has to work on her vulnerability more.

You sympathize with her, though; Parker surrounds her with so much totalitarian hoopla -- Triumph of the Will with a beat -- that it's amazing anybody could puncture his wall of sound. As Juan Peron, Jonathan Pryce doesn't even try; he seems sozzled by all the tumult. (With his teeth capped and his hair darkened, he looks like a vampire on 'ludes.) Antonio Banderas as Che, the show's one-man Greek chorus, attempts a breakthrough by glowering nonstop. Che is the show's "Brechtian" touch, but Banderas, his hair shiny and full, is more Breck than Brecht.

Glamourpusses plus proto-fascism -- that's Evita's formula for success.
Evita.
Written and directed by Alan Parker, based on the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice; with Madonna, Jonathan Pryce, and Antonio Banderas.

 
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