She Wanted Fame, She Got Parker
It's been a decade since I last watched "Evita" but time has not changed my opinion of Alan Parker's big screen adaptation of the musical. I still think it is a fantastic production; the combination of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's music and songs with the epic sets delivers such an amazing experience. Almost everything about it works, be it the slight roughness of Antonio Banderas's voice as Che, are guide so to speak, through to the huge crowd pieces. But and there is a huge but because whilst "Evita" maybe the story of Eva Perón it is not a story which digs beneath the surface, we watch as Eva rises from nothing to being the adored first lady of Argentine but by the end of the movie do we know any more to who Eva was, what sort of person she was, what motivated her, not just her rise but her decisions, not at all. It is the one real weakness which "Evita" has because without the depth and digging beneath the surface what we end up with is a fantastic piece of visual entertainment which borders on being shallow.
Now I've never had the pleasure of seeing the stage production of "Evita" although such a popular musical that I knew many of the songs which feature in it before I first watched "Evita". Bud I was aware of the long time it took to create a movie about Eva Perón, the various directors who were involved, the various actresses who wanted to play Eva and Madonna's passionate plea to play the title roll. Anyone who was semi passionate about movies in the mid 90s were aware of this as debate went on whether Madonna was right to play the part considering Madonna's not the best actress in the world.
Anyway various comings and goings and we had Alan Parker take the reigns who had previoulsy given us the likes of "Fame" and "The Commitments". And I will not be short coming in my praise of Parker because he has done a terrific job of creating such a brilliant musical, a musical which scrapes the edges of becoming an opera. I say that because there is very little purely spoken dialogue in "Evita" in fact Antonio Banderas who acts as a sort of guide through the life of Eva only actually speaks 6 words; the rest of it is sung. But what Parker has done is create a treat for the eyes, the nostalgic sense of being back in the 1920s, 30s, 40s and 50s is amazing and delivers so much atmosphere. And then with so much of the movie being about Eva and the way the public responded to her the crowd scenes border on the epic, line after line of extras all dressed authentically be it civilians or military it simply looks stunning, none more so than during the funeral possession scenes.
But what Parker does is more than just creating a good looking movie he delivers what story there is perfectly. The opening which gives us the parallel of Eva's funeral alongside the funeral of her father when she was just a small girl is a perfect introduction and then whips up to where it all really starts. And as such we get the first third all about Eva climbing the social ladder using one man after the next to get where she wants to go. This then leads to her relationship with Juan Perón and her pushing him and campaigning for him to become President. And the final third deals with Eva's popularity and the outpouring when she died so young.
It basically works and because we have the wonderful music and songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice which mix storytelling with power it gets you gripped, tapping your feet to the music. In fact as musicals go "Evita" has one of the best soundtracks you will ever hear, powerful rock songs interweaved with quieter more emotional numbers all featuring clever lyrics. And of course there is Madonna who is really at home when delivering these songs which thankfully go to make up the majority of her performances because when it comes to the tender moments and the rare moment of spoken dialogue her ability to deliver emotion feels a little amateur.
But here is the thing "Evita" is a fantastic piece of entertainment yet it suffers because of the storyline. Now the story of Eva Perón is interesting, her rise through the social ranks, her relationships with various men, her career on radio and TV and then reaching the top and becoming Juan Perón's wife and much adored first lady of Argentina. But you never get beneath the surface of this, oh there are the musical interjections from Che which amusingly point out that Eva basically slept her way to the top and when she married Juan she kept him locked out of the bedroom. But you never get beneath the surface, what drove Eva to want to reach the top, why did she do certain things and whether or not she really loved Juan or whether he was just the right man at the right time. It does make "Evita" a bit shallow as the musical retelling of what she did is great but it needs something more.
What this all boils down to is that "Evita" is a fantastic musical, from the sets to the music it is simply brilliant and has such a wonderful energy about it that it whips you up and doesn't let you down till the credits roll. But on that journey it has one major flaw and whilst it retells the fascinating live of Eva Perón it never digs beneath the surface making it a treat for your ears and eyes but less so for your mind.