The Power of Evita

Article excerpt

Byline: Lizzie Crocker

Patriot and feminist, beloved and despised. Elena Roger takes on the polarizing First Lady of Argentina in a new Broadway revival.

It always sounded like a Hollywood movie: a working-class woman dreams of stardom, falls in love, and has a meteoric rise to become the first lady of an impoverished country. With her death at the age of 33, there's even a tragic ending. From the beginning, it was easy to see Eva Peron as larger than life. It's never as simple to find a woman who could play her.

In 1978, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice premiered Evita as a musical in London's West End, making a star of fledgling actress Elaine Paige. Patti LuPone took over on Broadway, belting out "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" in more than 1,500 performances. And when the Tony Award-winning musical got the film treatment in 1996, Madonna--the ultimate diva--won the Golden Globe.

Now, Evita has a new leading lady in Argentine actress Elena Roger. She's played Peron in London since 2006, and the highly anticipated revival, directed by Michael Grandage, previews on Broadway this March. Roger is a massive talent well versed in playing cultural icons (she starred as the fiery Fosca in Stephen Sondheim's Passion and won an Olivier Award for her West End portrayal of Edith Piaf)--but unlike her predecessors, the diminutive soprano (she stands just over five feet tall) embodies Peron with a patriotic sensibility. "Being Argentinean makes things easier for me, but of course I have still put in the work," says Roger. "I read about her life, watched films, and found ways to 'become' Evita."

One thing hasn't changed. The narrative of Evita remains as compelling as ever. "She was a fragile woman with drive and ambition to better her lot," says Paige. …