If the advance word from Hollywood is to be believed, the film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Evita" will finally make Madonna the movie star she has longed to be. In fact, the buzz on her performance is so strong that even those who would normally be nay-sayers are already lining up to sing her praises.
But however much the movie might do for Madonna, don't expect commercial miracles from the soundtrack to "Evita" (Warner Bros. 46346, arriving in stores today).
It isn't a matter of whether Madonna sings the role of Eva Peron better than Patti LuPone (or even Julie Covington) did, nor does it reflect at all on Antonio Banderas' abilities in the musical arena as Che Guevara. Simply put, the album is going to be a disappointment to Madonna's pop fans because "Evita" just isn't pop music -- or, at least, not the kind of pop music Madonna usually makes on her own.
That's not to say the show doesn't have its share of big songs. In addition to its signature ballad, "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina," there's "You Must Love Me," one of several new numbers Lloyd Webber wrote for the movie version (and which seems clearly intended to give Madonna the single her fans and record company expected).
Unfortunately, such upliftingly melodic moments are few and far between in "Evita." Most of its 118 minutes, sad to say, are given over to wordy production numbers that offer more in the way of plot exposition than catchy tunes. "Eva's Final Broadcast" is basically a soliloquy set to music, and seems tuneful only to the extent that it reprises the "Don't Cry" theme, while "Rainbow Tour" crams so much scene-setting political chatter into its busy little arrangement that it comes off like an under-cast crowd scene.
Even when Lloyd Webber tries to get a good tune going, as with "I'd Be Surprisingly Good for You" or "Buenos Aires," his need to trundle Tim Rice's words along invariably makes his attempt at a melody seem secondary to each scene's dramatic intentions. And though he clearly tries to imbue the larger set-pieces with the kind of well-orchestrated drama Puccini delivered in "La Boheme" or "Turandot," take away the Latin flourishes and what remains is basically "Jesus Christ Superstar" without the pop songs.
As a result, slogging through "Evita" is like listening to an opera written by someone who never got beyond learning how to write recitativo. We keep waiting for a great aria or stirring chorus, but somehow, they never arrive.
Making matters worse for the movie version is the fact that neither of the film's major players -- Madonna and Banderas -- has the kind of vocal training to make those tentative tunelettes sound convincing. Because they lack the power and tone to lend this intoned dialog a patina of musicality, they sound decidedly less polished than Jonathan Pryce does in the role of Juan Peron.
That's likely to leave fans of the stage version (especially the LuPone partisans) sniffing that Madonna doesn't really have the voice for "Evita." But it actually serves the dramatic power of the production, because it underscores the class difference between Eva and Juan Peron -- and, frankly, makes Madonna more convincing as this heroine of the poor.
To that extent, "Evita" the album ought to whet appetites for "Evita" the movie. But as a listening experience, suffice it to say that anyone who isn't already a fan of Lloyd Webber's stagy spectacles will be better off waiting for the video.
Earful of 'Evita'
To hear excerpts from Madonna's new release, "Evita," call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the four-digit code 6131. For other local Sundial numbers, see the Sundial directory on Page 2A.
Pub Date: 11/12/96