I confess the main reason I attended “Evita” was to watch Madonna and Antonio Banderas dance the tango. Well, they were neither fiery, barbaric, nor sensual.
Disappointingly, what was lacking in the dance was also lacking in music: any solid reference to the rhythmic Latin/ African-based Argentinian music. It was like making salsa and leaving out the jalapenos. Dan Webster was right. The “Evita” theme song was the only song worth hearing. But not because Andrew Lloyd Webber can’t write good music.
Buenos Aires is the birthplace of the tango. It is revered and exalted - shrines are built to it. And this kind of music is part of Argentinian identity. Without it they could not exist. The 1979 soundtrack of the original Los Angeles-based stage production of “Evita” successfully reflects this. What a difference from the movie’s lack-lustre score! Faster paced, with a definite Latin beat, the 1979 tunes are sheer toe-tapping pleasure. “On the Night of 1,000 Stars,” the movie’s opening ballad is poignantly sung in the original; but becomes a vaudevillian parody in the movie.
So when in the end Madonna cries out to us to believe she is “Evita,” we try hard for her sake. But the director has sabotaged her. We already know she can’t dance the tango. And he gave her the Boston Philharmonic for a back-up band because he didn’t think it mattered they didn’t know the Latin beat. So her cries become whispers, and we leave the theater feeling sorry for her; but more sorry for ourselves - because we came to watch the tango, and all we got was the waltz.