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Soundtracking: "Evita"

It's Madonna's birthday!! Chris Feil looks back at one of her biggest soundtracks...

By the mid-90s, musicals were all but dead, even though Disney created their own resurgence in animated form. Madonna’s career however was always heading toward reviving it: she constantly reinvented the game for the music video and her Breathless Mahoney songstress was Dick Tracy’s genre flirtation device. With her divisive performance in Evita, she brought the cinematic musical back into the popular culture and delivered a hit soundtrack in the process.

And I should qualify that for emphasis: a hit soundtrack to a quasi-opera about propaganda and Argentine political figures when the popular music landscape highlighted Alanis, Tupac, and The Smashing Pumpkins. Madonna did that in arguably the least accommodating musical or cinematic climate, and perhaps only Madonna could have done it. Like it or not, much of the film’s success (even musically) is thanks to her star power, no matter how indelible Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s score remains.

But even calling her work “divisive” probably stirs something in either side of the debate. Madonna fans hold firm on her crystalline vocals and charisma, not to mention how she pushed her vocal abilities to find a new upper register. Broadway fans bemoan her lack of face-melting heights and less imposing presence like Patti LuPone brought to the stage. A fair viewpoint is somewhere in the middle: her vocal track strains to some more tricky melodic moments, but it’s not nearly as egregious a dumbing down of a score for as we have seen from the less vocally adept likes of Gerard Butler or Russell Crowe.

Regardless of expectations that Madonna may or may not meet, her performance bolsters the score on her emotion and sheer determination to succeed. Before “You Must Love Me”, she sings live with Jonathan Pryce to heartbreaking effect; her “A New Argentina” isn’t as upending as LuPone’s, but is nevertheless convicted and convincing. You can’t even argue with the star hijacking another character’s number when she brings such radio-ready beauty to “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.”

There is also something valuable and appropriate to the score with her pop sensibilities. Webber’s work always has one foot firmly in the pop music pond no matter where the other foot wanders, and here is precisely where Madonna excels. Other Evas may own the more difficult songs, but nobody nails the wide-eyed eager excitement of “Buenos Aires” like she does.

But some of the thinness in the film’s musical numbers can also be attributed to a certain buffing down of the score’s thorniness for the screen. Where the stage allowed for various interpretations of the Perons and their methods, the film is interested exclusively in sainthood without modifying the text. Madonna had some hand in sympathizing the Perons in the film versus the critical (and somewhat inaccurate) stage depiction, as did director Alan Parker. Antonio Banderas’s Che remains a thrilling critical eye, perhaps more meaningfully here as a man of the people rather than the stage’s odd use of non-Argentine Che Guevara.

But that alteration comes strictly from tone and approach, making for some odd lyrical moments that don’t sync to how they are played. The music becomes as plush and gauzy as anything else in the staggeringly produced film, but here it feels much more unmotivated. Among its most neutered moments comes with “I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You”, among it’s most beautiful and catchy numbers, but stripped away of any subtextual political maneuvering.

But the crowning achievement of the musical itself and Madonna’s vision is the moment we all wait for: “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”. Here is where Madonna’s saintly Evita is its most moving and rapturous, convincing in ways that a more conniving Eva doesn’t match. When it feels this personal, it’s no surprise that it became another signature Madonna track and got radio play. Even if you think she's just a wonderful, you know, performer for what she does, you certainly have to credit Madonna for bringing a Broadway tune back to the charts when that was an impossibility. And a successful and bizarre dance remix, as well.

OSCAR TRIVIA: The Original Song win for “You Must Love Me” was handed out by Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn, and Bette Midler. Almost as fabulous as this 90s diva lineup of nominees (which also included songs from Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand) is the rapport between The First Wives Club - which we previously covered on Soundtracking!

Previous Soundtracking Favorites:
Stop Making Sense
A Mighty Wind

Big Little Lies
Best Worst Thing...
Sister Act

but all installments can be found here!

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Reader Comments (25)

I always feel this has become just a footnote in Madonna's career but now you put in the context of time and her career it was a massive achievemant and wouldn't it have been great to see her in a little box in Best Actress,sorry Diane but in all honesty Madonna should have had that spot.

August 16, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

Another Suitcase in Another Hall is downright BEAUTIFUL!

August 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDAVID

Madonna was very good in "Evita" and should have been nominated for best actress Oscar

August 16, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterjaragon

I absolutely agree that Evita came out in the worst possible decade for a musical. The worst. Despite that she totally nailed it and, in case you're all wondering, she gets the Diane Keaton spot in my personal ballot.

P.S. Thanks for the very visible penis tweet.

August 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Completely agree with this entire article. Evita was an oasis for fans of movie musicals, and I remain impressed with Madonna's performance in it. It's maybe not a GREAT performance, but far better than its critics have ever been willing to admit. And it remains impressive that she drove the soundtrack to become such a hit (a hit dance remix of Don't Cry For Me Argentina - your faves COULD NEVER). The film likewise isn't great (it's a bit stuffy and airless), but the things that are good about it are GREAT (Antonio Banderas has never gotten proper recognition for how great he is in this), and I treasure it anyway.

August 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDancin' Dan

HOWEVER - That Thing You Do should have won Best Original Song that year, and everyone knows it!

August 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDancin' Dan

Was Madonna's performance in Evita really divisive? I recall its being pretty universally acclaimed, despite her inarguable limitations as an actress.

Another Suitcase in Another Hall and I'd Be Surprisingly Good for You are my favorite songs from this soundtrack. Oscar-winning aside, You Must Love Me is not beloved (by me anyway).

August 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Perhaps "widely acclaimed" is a more apt description; not everyone (critics or moviegoers) liked her performance of course.

The Evita trailer still gives me goosebumps, as does the thought—and demo—of Michelle Pfeiffer in the role:

August 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Rainbow High is my fave as it plays into Madonna's own persona.

I am as willing as any proper fan to give Madonna criticism when she deserves it but when she is good or better than I had thought I give her props,although Whitney really gave it a good go too with hit soundtracks aswell.

August 16, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

I wish "widely acclaimed" and Madonna were compatible concepts, my dear Mareko! Not even when she dropped Ray of Light.

August 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I love the film and I adore Madonna in it. Yes, I remember Madonna's perf was more acclaimed tthan divisive, at least that time. After the Golden Globe I also hoped that...ok, you know. Also for me she could have filled Keaton's spot

August 16, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermirko

Have to say that seeing the movie actually turned me on more to the Original stage recording - whichi is great source material.
As for the film itself - It is more great long music video. Producers probably knew better than to have Madonna actually speak. Seeing her in the role - the film is almost like viewing the rise of Madonna as she stumbles into NYC penniless, go through the rounds and eventually turns into the most powerful woman in the entertainment business. At the end of the film, I have to remind myself that it was about a certain Eva Peron and not the individual starring as her...

August 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTOM

The soundtrack is beautiful. I loved her performance in the film.

August 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMichael R

Alan Parker did a very good job of opening up the musical and let's not forget Antonio Banderas who is amazing and should have done more musicals. He would have brought some real passion to "Nine" and " The Phantom of the Opera". The film is very carefully tailored for Madonna but so were the musical star vehicles from the golden age of MGM.

August 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

(a hit dance remix of Don't Cry For Me Argentina - your faves COULD NEVER).

Oh my gosh, I remember this! And that Rick Dees on his Top 40 countdown would do a parody of Ukranian gold medalist figure skater Oksana Baiul singing it while getting her DUI. So wrong and yet so '90s ....

There is a gay bar in my city that does showtunes on Sundays and every time Don't Cry For Me Argentina comes on, they hand out napkins for us to throw at the end.

August 16, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterjakey

I just stumbled across " Peztanas Postisas" (False Eyelash) (1982) a film I have never heard of featuring the full frontal charms of 22 year old Antonio Banderas. This may not be serious news for cinemaphiles but if your interested in that sort of thing you can google the clip : )

August 16, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterjaragon

I own the CD Single of "You Must Love Me" (with "Rainbow HIgh" as the B side). #So90s

Airless is a good way to describe the movie. It just moves from one pretty picture with song to another. But Madonna is really good, and she and Courtney Love should have been in the running for Best Actress that year.

August 16, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

The soundtrack sold over TEN MILLION COPIES. And, yeah, produced hit singles including a hit dance remix of a Broadway showtune. What a time that was.

August 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Madonna was riveting as Evita. It is one of those cases of a person's having earned so many detractors over a career of being deliberately obnoxious that even her biggest triumphs have a fair share of nay-sayers. The soundtrack is gorgeous and it is the best Madonna has ever sounded. I'll take her over Patti Lupone's recording anytime!

August 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

Madonna and "Evita" were a perfect match of actor and role.

August 17, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterjaragon

a fitting tribute. I do not cry and i actually cried seeing Madonna nail this role on opening night of the movie.

August 17, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I am an English-Spanish interpreter in Argentina. At the time Oliver Stone was going to direct the film, he visited Argentina and met with then-Presiden Carlos Menem, a Peronist, who was delighted, to the point that he offered Stone the use of the Pink House balcony for the "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" scene. Menen had no clue about the musical. Someone in his team alerted him that it was not very kind to the figure of Evita. He was furious. When finally Alan Parker and Madonna arrived in Argentina to start shooting, he adamantly refused. Then, a media mogul who was friends with Menen, and played golf with him every week, met with Madonna to establish a startegy to get Menen to allow them to use the Pink House. I interpreted at that meeting. Madonna was very petite, dressed casually and, if I remember well, she was in the early stages of pregnancy (with daughter Lourdes). She was very nice and considerate and made it a point to shake my hand at the end of the interview. Madonna and Parker met with Menen (who was quite "lecherous" to put it mildly), Madonna showed some cleavage and they got the balcony!

August 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

I thought Madonna was fantastic in this, limited vocal range or no. And here's the blast from the past part - I think I did not buy the soundtrack but borrowed it from a good friend and made a TAPE CASSETTE copy. That makes feel old!!

August 17, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

Madonna really nailed this, her commitment to excellence in acting and vocals shone through.

Since we're discussing radio hits, Helen Reddy was the first artist to score one with an Andrew Lloyd Webber show tune. I Don't Know How To Love Him peaked at 13 in 1971.

August 17, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

"rather than the stage’s odd use of non-Argentine Che Guevara"

What does that mean? Che Guevara was Argentinian. Do you mean that he was portrayed as "not-argentinian" in the play?

March 27, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPablo

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