Los Angeles is a city whose theater scene is typically overlooked, yet every now and then we are host to a production that is monumental. One such occasion descended upon Los Angeles 40 years ago this month when Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice’s smash production, Evita, made its American debut here in Los Angeles. The musical, based upon the life of actress turned first lady of Argentina, Eva Peron has since gone on to be performed millions of times across the United States and around the world. The first American production would announce the arrival of one of the greatest musical theater actresses of all time, sweep the 1980 Tony Awards (taking a total of seven accolades) and create a musical theater standard...and it started here in L.A. The Los Angeles engagement, however, wasn’t as smooth as the creative forces behind the production would have liked it to be with a significant amount of ‘drama-within-the-drama’ punctuating the proceedings. Here’s a look back at the history of the first American production of Evita leading up to its turbulent run at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
The musical’s origins are infinitely British. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, the pair responsible for the hit musical, Jesus Christ Superstar, had once again taken a historical figure and set their life to music. With music by Webber and lyrics by Rice, Evita initially materialized as a 1976 concept album unofficially known as “The White Album” (because of its plain white cover). The concept album would transform into a stage musical two years later in London where it had its world debut. The British public’s reaction to the musical was so favorable that there was little doubt that it would be brought to America. Under the auspices of producers Robert Stigwood and David Land, the musical would travel to the United States but, surprisingly, it did not go directly to Broadway. Instead, the production took a circuitous route to New York landing first in Los Angeles at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion where it had its American premiere on May 8, 1979. After L.A., the production would then transfer to San Francisco and finally onto New York for the Broadway run. Evita would be one of many remarkable productions to visit the City of Angels between 1937 and 1987 thanks in part to the leading theatrical organization at the time, the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera.
The Los Angeles Civic Light Opera (LACLO) was a theatrical organization founded by Edwin Lester, a New York City native who arrived in Los Angeles in the 1920s. Lester initially began his career staging pre-screening events for movie theater impresario Sid Grauman before making a go of it for himself. He founded the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera with the expressed purpose of bringing legitimate musical theater to Los Angeles. The first season of the Civic Light Opera commenced in 1938 under the motto “Light Opera in the Grand Opera manner.” Lester helped to establish the San Francisco Light Opera and the two organizations operated as affiliates in order to bring theater to California’s two major metropolitan centers.
Programming for LACLO was varied and the organization not only imported productions from the ‘great white way’ (often with the original Broadway stars attached) but developed original works as well. Among the more successful works that transferred to Broadway after their L.A. debut were Song of Norway (1944), Kismet (1953) and Peter Pan (1954) starring Mary Martin. Imports from London were unusual in the history of LACLO (the previous British import was reportedly Oliver! in 1962) but the momentum that Evita had gained because of publicity since its London premiere made it a desired property for the LACLO. When it finally landed in L.A. Robert Kingsley, Chairman of the LACLO, issued the following release:
“Evita, our first attraction is a landmark musical theatre. The work of the same talents who were responsible for Jesus Christ Superstar, producers Robert Stigwood and David Land, librettist Tim Rice and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, plus the brilliant American director Hal Prince, Evita has been hailed by London critics as the most important musical show in British theatre history. Substantiating critical opinion, the show, now in its 2nd year, has been so consistently sold out that tickets in London are not available for nearly a year in advance. Civic Light Opera is very proud that our reputation and resources make it possible for us to present Evita’s American premiere in California.”
Evita’s premiere would christen the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera’s 42nd season.
Evita landed during a period of upheaval in the LA Civic Light Opera’s operations. In February of that year, LACLO formally merged with the San Francisco Civic Light Opera and became The California Civic Light Opera but they continued to maintain their individual names. The other issues LACLO was dealing with were a recent Los Angeles County tax that was imposed on tickets sold for entertainment purposes as well as a nation-wide gasoline shortage that seemed to impact on just about everything and everyone across the country. Meeting minutes indicate that the latter issues struck a serious blow to general attendance at the Music Center and were of deep concern to LACLO. It was assumed that Evita might be the antidote to these ailments.
“Oh What a Circus, oh what a show...”
Publicity surrounding the American premiere of Evita was monumental and quite unprecedented, at least in Los Angeles. This publicity would ultimately serve as this show’s salvation in the months to come as the majority of L.A. critics gave the production a lukewarm reception but everyday Angelenos, unaccustomed to this kind of brouhaha were understandably intrigued. Patti LuPone, the actress cast in the lead recalled in a 2013 interview the dizzying publicity that existed:
“...there was hype, you can’t believe. That was my first indication that this was going to be a tough experience because it was—I went, ‘How am I going to get around the hype?’ It was the first musical that I was aware of, that had so much pre-opening hype...Not even buzz. You know, not word of mouth. Hype.”
The end game of the Los Angeles debut was to build momentum for the Broadway run and where else but Tinseltown would you go to generate that kind of buzz? Indeed, film, television and music stars attending the show and expressing their adoration to the press were guaranteed to garner publicity for the show. The night of the opening it was reported that Robin Williams, Peter Falk, disco diva Donna Summer, Jacqueline Bissett, Christopher Reeve, model/actress Marisa Berenson (“wearing punk rock chic to make Eva envious”) and Zsa Zsa Gabor were all in attendance. The society columnist for the Herald Examiner, Wanda McDaniel, wrote that “the most likely social coup of the week (the month?) is to coyly announce that, of course, you’ve already been privy to life on ‘the balcony of the Casa Rosada’” suggesting that those who had seen the production were members of some elite social clique. She also suggested that star attendees might have carpooled in their stretch limousines because of the ever-present gasoline shortage.
“Just a Little Touch of Star Quality…”
The biggest publicity event was, without question, the casting of the title role. In his autobiography, Unmasked: A Memoir, Andrew Lloyd Webber writes that he had wanted the lead in the London production, Elaine Paige, for the American production but he notes that Prince and Stigwood were adamant that “America might prefer homegrown leads.” Casting took place in New York and the New York Times featured various reports of between 30 and 200 hopefuls auditioning for the part of Eva Peron. Marquee names like Faye Dunaway and Raquel Welch were regularly dropped in connection with the title role but it remains to be seen if they were actually interested in the part or not. Up-and-coming stage actress Meryl Streep admitted that she was interested in the role and joked with the New York Times that “If they hired me...all of my family would come. And my husband has five brothers. They would sell out the first three weeks of the show.” Ultimately, Patti LuPone, a Juilliard alum, landed the titular role which allowed many a theater critic to breathe a sigh of relief as they would no longer have to endure the mind-numbing publicity involved with casting; John Corry of the New York Times seemed to say it best: “Another byproduct of the casting of Miss LuPone in Evita, which will not open in New York until next September, is that now we will no longer hear the rumors about who will be Evita. Among the actresses mentioned as either in the running, under consideration or dead certain to get the role have been Ann-Margret, Meryl Streep, Loni Ackerman, Tovah Feldshuh, Raquel Welch and Charo.”
Only a handful of names carried over from Evita’s London production and chief among these were behind-the-scenes figures like producer Robert Stigwood, choreographer Larry Fuller and director Harold Prince (Fuller and Prince are American). Besides LuPone, Evita’s American cast included an entirely new slate of actors not affiliated with the London production: Bob Gunton as Juan Peron, Mandy Patinkin as “Che”, Mark Syers as Magaldi, and Jane Ohringer as Peron’s Mistress.
With the company assembled, rehearsals for Evita took place over a four week period in New York and were documented by both reporters and photographers. Photographer Martha Swope who had developed a reputation as the premiere photographer of NYC theatrical productions documented the rehearsals and her photographs would serve as the images used in the initial LACLO theatrical program for the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Writer Barbara Isenberg was witness to the rehearsal madness and wrote a piece that was published in the Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times two days before the May 8 premiere. Isenberg reported that publicity was in overdrive noting that “one critic reportedly likened the show’s publicity to the Normandy invasion” while the “commotion surrounding the American debut in Los Angeles was mounting.”
Legendary theater director, Harold “Hal” Prince was at the helm of the production. Prince started out as a producer on musicals like The Pajama Game before turning his sights to directing. In 1966, Prince had his first success as a director with Kander & Ebb’s Cabaret before he hit his stride with a series of Stephen Sondheim musicals including Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures and Sweeney Todd. Evita was an opportunity for Prince to succeed independent of his Sondheim collaborations. He had been responsible for many of the creative decisions like turning Mandy Patinkin’s character from an anonymous greek chorus-like figure named “Che” (an Argentine colloquialism) into Ernesto “Che” Guevara, in order to represent some sort of contradictory political challenge to Peronism (this has been dropped in some stagings including the 1996 film version). Isenberg noted changes that Prince had made changes from the London production including dropping some numbers, adding others and altering the ending to “give it a more forceful, abrasive conclusion.” She wrote that “Nothing in his staging exists by chance...the visionary planning is everywhere evident.” New York Theater critic Clive Barnes would simply say that “Prince has never given us a more spectacular staging.”
Isenberg reported that following rehearsals, the company would descend upon Los Angeles; the reported costs of importing the production were around $400,000 (nearly 1.4 million dollars today), most of which would be absorbed by the Civic Light Opera. The overall impression left by Isenberg’s article is that Los Angeles was in for something truly spectacular.
“...And who would underestimate the actress now?”
Despite publicity that insinuated otherwise, Patti LuPone wasn’t an unknown; she had been around for a handful of years, appearing, most notably, as part of John Houseman’s acting troupe; she also made appearances in a televised production of William Saroyan’s The Time of Your Life, a handful of David Mamet plays and a failed Stephen Schwartz (Wicked) musical, The Baker’s Wife (part of the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera’s 39th season). LuPone has grumbled about the miserable experience she had with The Baker’s Wife, (and understandably so) but it did provide her with a song that remains part of her repertoire, Meadowlark. The cast album of The Baker’s Wife, specifically ‘Meadowlark’, allowed LuPone to be recognized by the creative talents behind Evita. Andrew Lloyd Webber explained that ‘Meadowlark’, gave him the ability to assess that LuPone “seemed to have the chops” and “her performance suggested my score was well in her range.”
Landing the title role of Evita would shine a bright spotlight on the actress and ultimately transform her from a mere a working actor into a full-fledged musical theater legend. In 1979, after landing the role of Eva Peron, Vogue magazine wrote of LuPone: “Astonishingly, that a role sized for an Ethel Merman has been won by an almost unknown actress and the discovery of this new star—this new way to be dazzled—is a joy to everyone who cares about the theater.” The L.A. run, however, threatened to undermine the momentum LuPone had achieved in her fledgling career before it even got off the ground.
“The Actress Hasn’t Learned the Lines You’d Like to Hear”
Evita is the seminal role of Patti LuPone’s career. The character of Eva Peron was the perfect vehicle for Patti LuPone to showcase her bold, forceful vocal abilities and justifiably earned her the reputation as one of the most commanding performers on the American stage. Evita was a larger-than-life role that only a larger-than-life actress whose talent was limitless could pull off with any conviction. Indeed, Evita made LuPone a star and, for the role, she would win a well-deserved Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical but this flawless marriage of part and performer didn’t manifest until the New York run. For LuPone, the Los Angeles run was, by comparison, tumultuous and uncertain with most critical notices questioning her viability in the part. Los Angeles Times staff writer, Sylvie Drake initially summed up her performance as “shaky”; Drake followed up her initial review with a progress report during the musical’s final week in L.A. in which she stated that “LuPone, a talented and dedicated performer, struggles valiantly against that most elusive and implacable circumstance: miscasting.” Critic Martin Bernheimer wrote that “LuPone musters a rather scrawny sound for the temperamental outpourings of the titular sinner-saint and she finds her haunting “hit” number, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” something of a strain.” James Lardner, reviewing the play for the Washington Post wrote the following:
“As Eva, Patti Lupone must deal with the shallowness of both the character and the authors. It is a losing battle. And since her singing voice is hard to understand in certain registers, her performance comes across, perhaps unfairly, as one of Evita's serious drawbacks.”
LuPone acknowledged that she was struggling with the part during the Los Angeles engagement. During rehearsals, she had a momentary realization that she might not be able to carry off the level of singing that the part demanded; only much later would she realize much later that she lacked a vocal technique to carry her through the show. This technique deficiency would ultimately impact her hard:
“We flew to L.A. and went straight to sitzprobe (the company’s first sing-through with the orchestra) at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion...There were no microphones for the singers in the rehearsal room, and I remember Ruthie Mitchell, Hal’s assistant, motioning to me from across the room to go easy with my voice. But it was so exciting. I was singing with the orchestra for the first time. In my ignorance, I ended up singing over both the orchestra and the chorus. By the end of the night, after a flight, a sitzprobe, and a rehearsal on stage where more singing was required I had lost my voice. There was nothing—no sound, nothing.”
Overworked vocal cords would periodically knock LuPone out of performing, much to the consternation of producers who had agreed to put on benefit performances for charity on May 6.
“The Lady's Got Potential…”
In his autobiography, Andrew Lloyd Webber mentions that he “much liked a girl called Terri Klausner” who gave a “crackling” rendition of "I Don’t Know How to Love Him" during Evita’s audition process. Klausner, a newcomer with a spectacular voice and the dance skills to match, had been touring with the National Company of A Chorus Line when she decided to audition for the part of “Peron’s mistress.” She didn’t land the part, which was given to Jane Ohringer, but she was offered the part of the alternate for Eva. For those who may be unfamiliar, the job of an alternate is not that of an understudy, who covers for the headliner when/if they need to take leave or are sick; the role of the alternate is just that: to alternate the role with another performer. Klausner had, effectively landed a part-time gig as the lead in Evita.
As alternate, Klausner was slated to perform the role during matinees and/or a single evening while LuPone would perform during the remainder of the evening performances. Klausner also performed in the chorus when LuPone appeared as Eva. In 1980, Klausner was interviewed by John Corry for the New York Times and was asked about the unusual (and awkward) situation she was in: appearing as the lead two shows a week and then being relegated to the chorus while another actress took over her role. She made it clear that her bottom line was being able to perform: “I didn’t have to appear in the chorus...but I’d go crazy if I didn’t. I feel more of a part of the company this way.” In Los Angeles, however, Klausner ended up performing as Eva more than anyone could foresee beginning with the May 6 benefit performance.
On the evening of May 6, 1979, Klausner took to the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion as Eva, making her the first actress to perform the role in the United States. In a 1986 interview with Rian Keating, she recalled the experience:
“There were two benefit performances before the opening night and Hal Prince informed me that I would be going on for those performances and it was pretty scary because I had not had a rehearsal yet, as Eva...I don’t really have too much recollection of those two performances. I know I got through them and, I guess, saved the day…”
With rest, LuPone was able to recuperate enough to perform in the May 8 “official” opening but, in her book, Patti LuPone: a Memoir, she relayed a dissatisfaction with the performance, describing it as merely having the ability to sing and not bump into the sets - a performance forced out through “sheer willpower.” Was she being too hard on herself? At least one L.A. critic would have said yes. Gardner McKay, reviewed the play for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and saw the May 8 performance. He expressed dissatisfaction with the play in general, writing that “it asks no questions worth answering and proffers no substance…” yet he raved about the performances including LuPone’s: “Patti LuPone is a wondrous Evita, naive and shrewd. Her singing transcends the part that just isn’t there. No matter how wonderfully she dances and sings, it [the part of Eva] is still just a cut-out.”
McKay, it should be noted, was an actor prior to his career as a critic and writer possibly making him more sympathetic to performers like LuPone. Of course, it stands to reason that LuPone’s performance was exceptional and McKay was merely giving her the praise she deserved. Sympathetic critic or astounding performance aside, LuPone occasionally lost the ability to sing throughout the L.A. run and was sidelined for a number of performances including, reportedly, the night following the May 8 premiere.
In LuPone’s absence, Klausner gladly assumed the role and critics seemed to insinuate that this arrangement was some sort of quasi-All-About-Eve-sneaky-newcomer-steals-role-from-star storyline, if not trying to deliberately manipulate that scenario in their reporting. Klausner’s performance managed to land good notices from L.A. critics, none of which noted any hint of her having any difficulties singing the part. Most critics who praised Klausner also used the opportunity to make some kind of backhanded comment at LuPone; Lawrence Christon, for example, reviewing Klausner’s performance in the June 2, 1979, Los Angeles Times wrote the following: “The vocal demands of Evita at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion are such that Patti LuPone is excused from playing matinees and Terri Klausner is assigned the title role. Though Klausner is not as consistent, she has a sharper more tensile vocal quality that gives the production a great deal more theatrical definition.”
Christon was not alone, it was regularly stated that the vocal demands of the part were just too much for LuPone to perform in both the evening and matinee performances, making it necessary to bring in another performer to take on the role. The underlying implication being that LuPone was somehow incompetent or inept as the lead in this production and someone else was brought in to pad her inadequacies. LuPone noted that she felt “tension with the alternate who was going on for me more frequently than I ever anticipated.” Reviews that essentially pit the two performers against one another continued as Klausner played matinee performances (and when LuPone was unable to perform) in both San Francisco and on Broadway. During the Broadway run, the New York Times wrote the following review of Klausner’s matinee performance: “...Klausner’s Eva has fewer hard edges than Miss LuPone’s...Miss Klausner sings approximately as well as Miss LuPone; she dances better, and if her acting has less bite, it is, by a shade more ingenious...”
Adding to the tension was the fact that Klausner had developed a rapport with the dancers in the chorus (whom she was performing with during the evening) while LuPone had clashed with them since rehearsals. LuPone noted that a handful of dancers, imported from the London production, were giving her pointers about what Elaine Paige had done during the dance sequences; this infuriated her and she exploded: “I was polite for about two days. And then a Broadway reputation was born.” The tension came to a crescendo in San Francisco when someone posted Klausner’s glowing reviews next to LuPone’s poor notices for the entire company to see. At some point LuPone began to view Klausner as an adversary; even thirty years after the fact, LuPone would write about Klausner (without actually mentioning her by name):
“I did, unfortunately, have to deal with the alternate Eva, who played the Wednesday and Saturday matinees. She was nipping at my heels, praying for me to fail or fall so she could have my part. It was a real-life all about Eva.”
As far as I have been able to tell, Klausner wasn’t praying for LuPone to fail; In fact, she was appropriately gracious and diplomatic when speaking about both LuPone and herself. As she told John Corry, “I’m more of a singer but Patti is more vibrant, more fiery. I think she’s a more hard-core Evita and I’m a more sympathetic one. I like her performance. I also like mine.” Moreover, in nearly every interview she gave during this period, Klausner’s enthusiasm and likability shine through. If she had any ill feelings towards LuPone she didn’t let it show. In Klausner’s defense, as the alternate, she was simply doing the job she was hired to do and, in the process, establishing her viability as a performer; furthermore, in the eyes of the producers, she proved to be the show’s salvation on more than one occasion. Klausner would garner some terrific notices because of her involvement with Evita and was able to get solid work following her run that included a nightclub act and a lead role in the Broadway revue, Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies with Gregory Hines. Her growing importance to Evita eventually materialized with billing. Klausner’s name was added to the promotional material for the production beginning with the Los Angeles engagement: snipes were printed and applied to LACLO window cards and new theater programs were printed that included Klausner as a featured player, this billing was maintained through to the Broadway run.
What few reporters ever seemed to acknowledge was that there had been two actresses sharing the part during the London run as well; John Corry provided the rare instance of a reporter addressing this dynamic (in his pre-production reporting) when he inquired as to whom would be cast as LuPone’s alternate. He explained that two performers had become the standard during the British run. Andrew Lloyd Webber explained that the reason for an alternate became apparent during the London run when Elaine Paige began to miss performances because of vocal issues leaving the understudy to take over: “Eva was too big a role for any actress to sing eight shows a week. Elaine started to miss performances and her understudy Michelle Breeze found herself propelled in front of less than merry audiences too many times for the Stigwood office not to consider an alternate...It wasn’t her fault that she couldn’t sing the show eight times a week. Nobody could.” Webber wrote that he was insistent that there be an alternate cast during the American audition process because of what had happened in London with Paige. He followed that assessment up with the statement that “My concern for our leading lady’s vocal cords was rewarded some years later when Miss LuPone opined that Evita was clearly written by a composer who hates women.”
In the midst of the run, director Hal Prince gathered the company to let them know that a notice was going to run in Suzy Knickerbocker’s New York Post column stating that LuPone was going to be fired and replaced with Elaine Paige, the actress who originated the part in London. Prince explained to the company that the story was untrue and he expressed his support for LuPone. In his autobiography, Sense of Occasion, Prince noticeable avoids any discussion of Evita’s premiere in Los Angeles and the problems that plagued his leading lady. In fact, his only mention of Evita and Los Angeles is to highlight the successful run of the touring company that took place following the Broadway opening. Prince’s response to the replacement rumors were documented by the press and appeared in (among other publications) the August 6, 1979 edition of People Magazine which featured a story on LuPone:
“Prince himself rushed to Patti’s defense. Not only was she staying, he said to the assembled cast—but her performance was a “f—ing gem.”...“She has that hypnotic quality of great performers,” says Prince. Besides, he believes, “The role calls for a white sound, a pure sound that cuts through screaming crowds—like Patti’s.”
Seven years later, LuPone would learn from theater critic Clive Barnes that producers were indeed going to fire her. Evita producers, Robert Stigwood and David Land had approached Barnes asking him to consult on who he thought might be a suitable replacement for LuPone. Barnes expressed his confidence to Stigwood that LuPone could work through her problems. Director Hal Prince asserted a similar sentiment to Stigwood and the producer relented, giving LuPone a reprieve but not before word got out and Knickerbocker’s story was published prompting Prince to do damage control.
It was during the Los Angeles run of the musical that the cast album was recorded and it remains the most salient record of the original American production; thankfully, it bears no signs of the vocal trouble that plagued its leading lady. What is clear is that the part of Eva is difficult to sing exactly how it was written, requiring the performer to do vocal acrobatics on nearly every song. It’s even more difficult if you lack a vocal technique that would sustain such a performance for two hours. The prospect of delivering the performance that exists on the cast album each and every night would be intimidating to even the most seasoned performers. LuPone wrote that “The blocking I could do; the acting I could do; The singing was frightening. Evita Peron’s voice was pitched high and the music reflected that height. The D,E,F, and G and octave above middle C were not intended to sound sweet. Which means there needed to be power behind the voice. The score for me was almost impossible to sing because I had no power in the passaggio.” The album was recorded during the end of the L.A. engagement and LuPone requested that recording sessions be broken up to preserve her voice for the show. It didn’t help: “We completed the recording, and on the Saturday morning of the final performance, I had nothing left. I was once again devastated by my vulnerability, and by the control those two tiny muscles, the vocal cords, had over my life.”
“Good Night and Thank You...”
Evita’s final performance in Los Angeles was punctuated by the sheer theatricality of the sleight-of-hand that took place on the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion’s stage, July 7, 1979. The audience, filled with Hollywood’s elite and the “descamisados” (Evita groupies who had returned regularly throughout the run), came for a last chance to see both the musical and the newly minted star take their final bows in Los Angeles. Alas, it was not meant to be. LuPone began the performance but she wouldn’t finish it:
“The last and most devastating blow in the L.A. run was not being able to finish my final performance…The world was coming to the final performance in Los Angeles. It was sold out and tickets were being scalped. I started the show and it was during “Buenos Aires,” my first big-vocal-cord busting solo, that I started to talk the song. I was in a word, f—d...I was shell shocked. I’d never been knocked off the stage before. I’d never not finished a performance. My only thought was to get the hell out of the building as fast as I could before I heard the alternate singing “Argentina.” In fifteen minutes, I packed up a dressing room I’d lived in for nine weeks.”
Klausner, once again, had stepped in to save the day and finished the show for LuPone.
In an interview with Jane Pauley that was recorded during the Broadway run, LuPone lamented the lost opportunity to partake in a grand closing night ceremony at the Dorothy Chandler: “I could not finish the show so Terri Klausner, the girl that plays the matinees, went on and finished. I was sobbing in my dressing room packing up my makeup, having failed...it was a terrible feeling.” On her way out of Los Angeles to San Francisco, LuPone drove past the victims of a fatal car accident along Pacific Coast Highway; she couldn’t help but interpret as an omen: “The image has never left me and it is one I still associate with my run in L.A.”
“No One Else Can Fill It Like I Can…”
LuPone never found the footing that she had hoped for during the L.A. run but it was in L.A. that she started working on a vocal technique that would get her through the Broadway run. She asked cast member, David Vosburgh for help: “We started to work together and ended up working on the score and a vocal technique for most of my run. The producers put a piano in my dressing room and gave David a bonus. David saved my job.” By the time the show landed on Broadway, LuPone had a firm grip on the part and would not only be able to make it through the full run but her technique had progressed to the point where, on Saturdays, she was able to perform in Evita during the evening and then perform in a midnight cabaret act at Les Mouches nightclub for a 27 week run. She would walk away with a well-deserved Tony Award for Evita and begin her ascent to the ranks of Broadway’s top performers. Shortly after LuPone had completed her Evita run on Broadway, producers approached her about taking on the role again for the Australian production after the Aussie lead was sidelined because of an injury. LuPone stepped back into the part with ease, the struggles she had faced during the L.A. production were a distant memory.
“The Art of the Possible”
Evita was more-or-less dismissed by theater critics not only during the Los Angeles run but San Francisco and Broadway turns as well. This didn’t go unnoticed by the Civic Light Opera. At the September 28th board meeting, Ernest Martin, the Managing Director of the Civic Light Opera gave a summary of the season, acknowledging the ‘vicious’ nature of the critics on their shows that season. Life Magazine ran a feature story that confronted the critical ennui: “In 1978, they [Stigwood & Prince] opened the show on the London stage to sensational reviews. The American Evita’s tour in Los Angeles and San Francisco this summer met with less enthusiasm.” The public, however, didn’t seem to care what the critics had to say and much like Eva Peron herself, the show that was dismissed by the oligarchy in the guise of theater critics was wildly successful with the average theater-going public. Indeed, despite taking in less revenue than was anticipated (the gasoline shortages and ticket taxes were mentioned as culprits), LACLO did not consider Evita a financial failure; while solid numbers were not available in the meeting minutes, they did reveal that the Civic Light Opera did not report any monetary losses on Evita. The charity shows that took place prior to the opening were reportedly sold out and the premiere nabbed the publicity that producers were eager to reap.
The juggernaut publicity campaign that allowed the public to get swept up in the theater of this particular production worked and made Evita a success. The Scarlett O’Hara-like casting process, the advertising that eventually included a well-remembered television commercial, merchandise tie-ins, talk show appearances by the stars and news stories about the production and creative team behind the show all contributed to a reversal of fortunes for the musical by generating a rabid public interest. Life Magazine’s article in the September 1979 issue closed by teasing audiences with the following:
“Its imminent arrival in New York is being hyped as the big event of the new season on Broadway, where billboards are pulsating with the message 'Evita is coming.'"
Indeed, Evita came, saw and conquered.