Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Don't Cry for Me I'm a Star; the Passionate First-Night Performance by an Unknown Actress from Argentina Had the Critics Raving This week.Evita, Says Elena Roger, Is a Role That She Was Born to Play

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Don't Cry for Me I'm a Star; the Passionate First-Night Performance by an Unknown Actress from Argentina Had the Critics Raving This week.Evita, Says Elena Roger, Is a Role That She Was Born to Play

Article excerpt

Byline: NICK CURTIS

A VIRTUAL unknown on Wednesday, Argentine actress Elena Roger woke late yesterday morning to find herself the toast of London. The capital's critics, often cool in the face of both musicals and imported talent, fell over themselves to praise the diminutive 31-year-old's performance as her country's most controversial icon, Eva Peron, in the [pounds sterling]3.5 million revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber's and Tim Rice's Evita. She pulls off a startling transformation from dowdy brunette to the glamorous blonde embodiment of her country's hopes.

The Evening Standard's Nicholas de Jongh described her as "all vulnerability and cunning, with enough sex appeal and raw erotic energy to snare half a government", while Charles Spencer in Corbis the Telegraph praised her "tremendous presence ... wonderfully expressive mouth and eyes ... [and] star quality". For Benedict Nightingale in The Times, Roger was, simply, "a revelation".

Sitting in her dressing room the day after opening night, with her dyed Titian hair, pipecleaner frame, and with no makeup on her wide mouth and enormous blue eyes, Roger looks more like a teenage rock chick than a West End star.

She seems remarkably calm.

"Today I am relaxed," she says. "I was so excited yesterday before the show, with a lot of energy, because I was waiting for this moment for so long. Now I feel, ah, it is done." There was, she concedes, a minor wobble as she was putting on Evita's makeup. "I thought, 'How strange it is that I am here in London, so far from Buenos Aires, and that I am doing this,'" she says. "I realised it was a big deal."

Once out on stage, though, the enthusiasm bore her up.

"It was a very 'hot' audience," she says.

"Audiences in Argentina are 'hot', they scream and are very expressive.

Last night was not so different. All the time, they were with us, not sleeping or dreaming of other things." Indeed, they gave her a rapturous ovation. Elated but exhausted, she went on to the after-show party and "didn't stop talking to journalists and all the people in the show", until, leaving at 1.30am, she found to her disgust that the West End was pretty much dead. "You don't have much nightlife here," she says, unleashing a raucous peal of disdainful Latin laughter. "That is terrible for us!"

Joking aside, Roger takes the musical, and its treatment of Eva Peron very seriously.

Born dirt-poor Eva Duarte in 1919, Evita became an actress and was alleged by her detractors to have slept her way to political influence.

After helping her Hitler-admiring husband, General Juan Peron, to win the presidential election in 1946, she set about championing Argentina's impoverished "descamisados" [shirtless ones] and empowering its women, winning them the vote in 1947.

"She fought so hard for something important when a woman's rights didn't really exist," says Roger, whose own aunt was one of those who called Evita a whore but ended up adoring her. Although Evita died of cancer aged 33 in 1952, she still enjoys an iconic status in Argentina similar to Princess Diana's.

"A lot of people love her and a lot of people hate her," says Roger. With paternal grandparents who were Peronists from the south, and Italian socialist grandparents who had fled Mussolini, Roger says that "all my life I heard people speak about the Perons. When I was born, politics in Argentina really began to fall down, with the military [dictatorship] period. It was a terrible time because a lot of people disappeared - many more than in the Peron epoch."

The subsequent restitution of democracy, for all its strife between "Peronistas" and "radicales", would not have been possible without the Perons' empowering of the underclass, she suggests: "This was the fight of the people - the pueblo."

Roger was four when Evita opened in London, starring Elaine Paige. …

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