The Journey So Far

A chronological stroll thru the history of Broadway Musicals as they came to be recorded by Hollywood--the summation of a lifelong vocation, and a journey of self discovery. Equal parts cultural history, critique and personal memoir. Coming next: Nine

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Evita

December 25, 1996,  Hollywood/Disney   135 min
Isn't it amazing that musical theater can rescue a fading historical figure and elevate them to a more lasting legendary status?  Take, Hamilton, for one. Or, Gypsy Rose Lee, Molly Brown, Fanny Brice, Annie Oakley, Maria von Trapp--all kept in the cultural consciousness because of their depiction (mostly highly fictionalized) in musicals. Eva Peron has a firm footing in Argentine history, but would she be as well-known today if not for this Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber concoction? But unlike most bio-tuners which exalt their source, this one is less celebration than ambivalent critique. Under Harold Prince's staging the musical became an agit-prop pageant campaigning as an opera. Neither of which translate well into cinema. Yet there seemed real potential in Evita as a commercial movie.

It's a strange show. Ethan Mordden has pointed out how similiar in structure it is to Rice & Lloyd-Webber's previous hit, Jesus Christ Superstar. Che functions like Judas, "hectoring the audience on the protagonist's hypocrisy," while Peron, much like Mary, stands on the sidelines. At the center (which does not hold), Evita, like JC, arouses outrage as well as a slavish following--and both die at the age of 33. It could almost be a formula. Was there any particular reason to raise the curtain on some random cinema to announce the heroine's death? (There's one difference; at least JC didn't start on the cross). It starts with a funeral, but the operatic bombast is nicely undercut with "Oh, What a Circus"--a rhythmic, almost unrecognizable variation on the show's big ballad, "Don't Cry for Me..." sung by Che Guevara--who has no relevant connection with Evita, other than growing up under her reign. But his fame as an anarchist & revolutionary make for a convenient critical narrator. Tho a professed acolyte of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Lloyd-Webber was also attuned to the musical zeitgeist; starting his professional career incorporating British rock into theater. Which gave him success enuf to branch into other musical genres--more operatic, more symphonic. Evita contains a good share of rock riffs (many as numbingly thrashing as those in Superstar) but there's a new reach in his melodies, psuedo-Latin American beats suggesting an Argentine sound, without any pretense to authenticity. And without cliche. I was seduced by the score in the summer of 1979; first in the concept album with Julie Covington, then in the somewhat-corrective, somewhat-reductive OCR with Patti Lupone & Mandy Patinkin. I recall many an afternoon stolling down from my Nob Hill apt. to my evening shift at Books Inc. running one or another rhythmic melody thru my mind, half-singing down San Francisco's storybook streets. To my mind Lloyd Webber has never bettered his work than here, tho as always with L-W, there's some tiresome recitative; a habit he's as unwilling to relinquish as he is unable to master. And therein lies my central problem with L-W, with British poperettas, with all sung-thru musicals--those wannabe operas; even the best of which would be even better if they would only stop singing every once in a while. Aside from the occasional, but glaring, heavy-metal diversions, Evita has a bounty of memorable numbers: "High Flying Adored," "The Rainbow Tour," "On This Night of a Thousand Stars," "Peron's Latest Flame," "Goodnight and Thank You," "And the Money Kept Rolling In," "Rainbow High," "She is a Diamond," all stand up to repeated listening. "I'd Be Surprisingly Good for You" is especially intoxicating--a cocktail of a song that goes down so smoothly. "Eva Beware of the City," has a seductive line that contradicts the lyrics' warning, and leads so brilliantly into "(What's New) Buenos Aires," a breathless mid-act adrenalin rush (like "Consider Yourself from Oliver!, or Hello Dolly's "Put on Your Sunday Clothes"). From Jerry Herman, L-W stole the relentess reprise, often in sly adjustments of tone or rhythm so that we may not register the familiarity of the tune, but seem to follow it so easily. "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," is the show's prime motif, from its first reveal as "Oh, What a Circus," culminating in its iconic, grand balcony aria at the top of the second act, onto Evita's "Final Broadcast," with various orchestral fanfares thruout. It's an unexpected hit song, not least for its inseparably specific lyrics--not exactly the makings of a universal pop sentiment; but musically, too, it has an unconventional melodic line, with a somewhat muted ending. Yet even to the Bway-illiterate, "Don't cry for me". . .is a phrase they know to finish with. . . "Argentina."

Tim Rice, whose interests would seem to be more adventurous than L-W's (He lobbied a Cuban Missle Crisis opera--in vain--over one about Jesus) initiated Evita, and had to wait for LW to finish Jeeves with Alan Ayckbourn. But capitulating again to a sung-thru opera put an undue burden on Rice to explain a good deal of unfamiliar (to most of the world) political history. (Fiorello! was hard enuf). But Rice took his critical tone and facts from a 1952 bio by one Mary Main; an Argentine-born Brit living in America. Published in the US and England (but not Argentina) under the pseudonym Maria Flores, The Woman with the Whip was the first real hatchet job on Evita--but one later discredited for its lack  of historical context or serious research; full of falsehoods and ignorance of the political and social causes of Peronism. Did it matter that many of Main's assertions were later proven false? Clearly not to Rice, who chose to use Main's model--presumably, not out of ignorance but for dramatic impact. Yet the sad result is that a historical figure has been dragged into a new, skewed notoriety that's become absorbed into global consciousness--far beyond the original book's premise. (I, for one, had never heard of Eva Peron before this show; and I venture to say that goes for most others as well) Who knew that musical theater could have such collateral impact? But how do the Argentine feel about a figure still so beloved her image gleams all across Buenos Aires over 60 years later?

Rice's lyrics are clumsy as often as they're clever; and getting across complex ideas in bullet points often compressed thru a number more montage than song, hobbles the material. Surely I'm not the only one to see the benefit of scenes--sans music--which not only help cleanse the palette for the next course of song, but assist in artfully giving us more context of the situation. I don't consider myself a stupid man, but I found it especially hard to follow the swings between adoration and condemnation; populism and rebellion. One minute they're marching in support, the next they're throwing molotov cocktails. We know what side Che is on, but not really why. We don't ever learn what Peron represents to anyone, but particularly to his enemies. It's buried there in a lyric or two, but it's so sketchy as to make Cliff Notes look like a thorough annotation. In one sense, I suppose none of that really matters. Front & center is a newly minted mythical character, part altruistic saint, part cold-bloodied villainess.

Patti Lupone seems in retrospect more born to the role than she did at the time. I saw the musical twice, first in tryout in SF (where it was still rather shaky) and later on Bway after Tony-crowned Lupone and Patinkin had fully inhabited their roles. But my memory of the show has never lingered in fond recall. The movie was a long time coming. Talks began as early as '78, before the musical had even made it to Bway. As producer, Robert Stigwood (unlike Merrick or Prince) didn't sell off film rights, but produced the pics himself. For Evita, Tim Rice wanted to cast his girl-friend, Elaine Paige (who was the original Eva in London). But that was nixed once Ken Russell was hired to direct. Russell's lurid visions were well attuned to music--aside from several composer bios he made the stunning Tommy, proving cinematic mastery over a rock opera. Russell claims la Streisand was approached but quickly declined (I wonder why--not that she's an obvious choice). But this is a classic Diva role, one to clamor for; which meant the roster considered them all: Cher, Meryl Streep, Faye Dunaway, Glenn Close, Olivia Newton-John. But Russell was keen on Liza Minnelli, and for some time it looked like that was the last word. It's hard to see Liza disappearing under the skin of Eva, but the package is something I could see in an alternate universe. But it was not to be--eventually Ken Russell ankled, and was replaced by Oliver Stone, who wrote his own screenplay, tipping the balance on the political side. Stone wasn't musically tone deaf either, having previously shown adept usage, culminating brilliantly in The Doors. Oliver's idea of Evita was Michelle Pfeiffer. Conflicts tore this scenario apart, and finally Alan Parker came on board to helm--keeping Stone's credit on script along with his own. So many years had now passed that a newer, younger pop-diva had arrived to seemingly dominate the pop zeitgeist: Madonna.
From the start, the Material Girl had exuded a cold-blooded, scrappy Blonde Ambition, that took her far in the era of Reagan. Her rapid rise to national discourse was virtual rehearsal for the part; and even her looks played in her favor--a natural facsimilie for one who was likewise a natural chameleon. Madonna's film career had never found solid footing. She didn't have to carry Desperately Seeking Susan, despite playing the title role; which cemented her Downtown Girl persona on celluloid; as much the "It" Girl of '85 as the Clara Bow of '27--and now amusingly as much a period snapshot. She struggled thru her own early star vehicles, then found a smoother groove in Dick Tracy (incorporating her Sondheim numbers & persona into her Blond Ambition tour the same summer). But despite her obvious suitability Evita wasn't simply handed her. She lobbied long & hard--her conviction that this was the role she was born to play, convinced Parker, Stigwood and the suits at Disney. Even if you didn't like her, you had to admit she was well suited. This wasn't a WTF-Barbra-as-Dolly casting bombshell. And to her credit, Madonna was entirely devoted to studying all aspects of her part, including Argentine history, and took great pride in her accomplishments. In the end, it was the movie that let her down more than the other way around.

Unlike Patti Lupone, Mandy Patinkin made a few high-profile movies (Ragtime, Yentl, The Princess Bride) in his brief New-Jew-in-Town leading man mold of Elliot Gould. But he was in his 40s by the time Evita was filmed, and a younger, sexier Che was found in Antonio Banderas. Patinkin's high tenor was lost but the Spaniard Banderas was more credible, and not bad to look at. British actor Jonathan Pryce, fresh off his career peak in Bway's Miss Saigon, was granted Juan Peron--a thankless part in many ways which might have been more elevated with someone with genuine Latin charisma. (30 years earlier it would've been Ricardo Montalban--here it should've been Raul Julia.) So this trio, plus two more come to just 5 defined characters for such an epic show. The other, much lesser two, are the singer, Magaldi--emphasized for his sleaze, and Peron's Mistress just another girl without a name (who sings another song, "Another Suitcase in Another Hall"--which the film assigns to Madonna; an awkward choice as she voices experience her character doesn't yet have). But what the play lacks in defined characters it more than makes up for in crowds. Between protests, rallies, funerals, state visits and inaugurations, Prince filled the stage with 36 adults and 5 children. The movie multiplies that by thousands. Seen in scene after scene after scene.
Alan Parker's first feature film was a novelty '20s gangster musical cast entirely with kids: Bugsy Malone. His second, Midnight Express gained him an Oscar nod and industry clout. But his penchant for drama didn't staunch his musical forays: which by this time were far from the MGM mold: Fame, Pink Floyd's The Wall, The Commitments--movies which felt like extended music videos; the legacy of early MTV. As a rock opera, Evita seemed a good match for Parker. He opens the movie, as always, in a cinema in Buenos Aires--the credits on black over the soundtrack of the Spanish melodrama. We first see the b&w movie; the shut down of the pic, and the announcement of Eva's death; then the pomp of national mourning as the casket rides thru the streets. Parker cuts to another funeral 26 years earlier which the bastard 7 year old Eva Duarte is barred from attending; a nice added touch, giving background which fuels her determined character--as well as framing the story in death and its impact. Che (never named, never alluded to as Guevara here) is played as the Everyman--the regular citizen, popping up thruout in various guises and employment. He's revealed first alone in a bar to introduce an opposing viewpoint to the masses: "Oh, What a Circus, oh what a show..." establishing the form of cynicism we're expected to embrace. It's never a good sign when I start assessing how differently I'd frame, edit or design a sequence, and that came rather quickly for me into the film. Too many good ideas are spoiled, much of it in editing (either missing the musical beats, or slashing too frantically). The film has a grainy focus and dusty palette; Argentina as a study in sepia. Some of it was filmed on location in Buenos Aires, some of it in Budapest--it's hard to tell the difference--only the Casa Rosado is identifiable. The cinematographer Darius Khondji is a specialist in dark, night-light and rust. Of late he's been recruited by Woody Allen for a few pics (Midnight in Paris etc.) as well as some Madonna videos and tour docs. Naturally Oscar noms went to both editing and cinematography. One of the better stretches begins with our introduction to 15 year old Eva; Madonna in chestnut wig. Magaldi is cast for sleaze personified, but couldn't they have found someone with a better voice? And perhaps a hint of Spanish accent? But the passage thru "Eva Beware of the City" into "(What's New) Buenos Aires" has nice momentum, tho the later disappoints in its visual build. Her tango dancing at the dance hall brings a palpitation of excitement; we remember that Madonna has moves. But the number doesn't build into the frenzy of the score. Giving Evita "Another Suitcase, Another Hall" is jarringly wrong. Why is she singing...

     Take your picture off another wall
     Where am I going to?
     You'll get by you always have before
     Time and time again
     I've said that I don't care. . .

Really? Isn't Magaldi her first conquest? "Goodnight and Thank You" traces her rise quite nicely, with Che popping up along each verse. And only now have I realized the tune is a sped up "Eva Beware of the City." "The Lady's Got Potential" is another montage (as so many of them are) tho it's entirely about Juan Peron, attempting to place him within a socio-politcal context with a few clumsy lyrics. The crackling excitement inherent in their meeting over "I'd be Surprisingly Good For You" is somehow missed by the literal passage from charity ball to bed. Not to mention the utter lack of chemistry between Madonna and Pryce. 

"Peron's Latest Flame" (whose tune comes from the bridge in "What's New Buenos Aires") begins with encouraging flashes of style suggesting MFL's "Ascot Gavotte"--in a '40s Argentine shade--but shifts into a military parade, degrading into a poorly edited sequence of marching soldiers, drinking officers, showering boys, masked fencers, dining bourgeoisie and all what not--an amateur music video if ever there was one. By the time "A New Argentina" comes around (to more displays of public masses) I'm so unclear on any of the politics, which leads me to think the intent is not to busy my little head and just take it in as "atmosphere." What it all builds to, of course, is the show's central (in every sense of the word) sequence, On the Balcony of the Casa Rosada, leading into the Diva's aria. It's oddly filmed without much interest, close, full and wide shot--all static;  when it  cries for  camera movement, 
the sweep of the crowd, the rise of a crane--especially given the honor of its actual location. "High Flying Adored" is refreshing--if only for not being a montage, set fluidly at a state ball, Che mingling with the upper classes. But "Rainbow High" is back to visual collage--this one from the pages of Vogue. The Guinness Book of Records claims Evita's wardrobe broke Liz Taylor's record of 65 costume changes for Cleopatra, by twenty more. Her hair as well 

 


 
goes thru many colors and styles--no doubt Madonna was in Hlwd Heaven. "The Rainbow Tour" is one of the more effective numbers, using b&w newsreel footage (some real, some faked) to weave in & out of color scenes as Eva hits Europe. Tho the end by now is foretold, there's one last blast of hope & glory--this one even has Che dancing gleefully (if ironically) in the streets: "And the Money Kept Rolling In" is infused with Che's allegations of corruption, but unlike Donald Trump, Evita's foundation and charitable acts were legion (among them a new city built outside B.A., and a children's theme park based on Grimm fairy tales that's said to have inspired Walt Disney). But Rice takes a dim view of all this. In "Partido Feminista" Eva's rising popularity is scored with L-W's frenzied chords to make her seem as sinister as Hitler in Triumph of the Will. Talk about propoganda. Thereafter, we see more unclarified chaos in the streets, contrasting Che's running from police to Eva collapsing. Parker puts her under anasthesia for the fantasy "Waltz for Eva & Che"--a verbal tango on a tiled floor--which suggests Che (who she otherwise has no connection with) as her sparring subconscious. Rice &  L-W wrote one additional song, which comes here to illustrate Evita's return home from hospital upon learning she's dying. It's not really much of a song, nor is it narratively necessary--not when it turns into a clip reel of (previously seen) "memories." Nonethess the song won the writers an Oscar (with little competition) and gave Madonna a piece of the show to call her own. Death scenes are a dramatic staple--but Evita seems to be dying thru much of the second half of the show. R&H knew better than to set the King of Siam's death to song but Rice & L-W give their heroine not one, but two weak-voiced "11 o'clock" solos that provide neither new insight nor musical muscle. Having begun with a funeral, there's nowhere else to go. Only now it simply feels flat. Parker doesn't even bother to include Che's haunting final words about Evita's subsequent stolen corpse--a saga which could fuel a script of its own. (It's also worth noting that Eva was Peron's second wife. His first also died of cancer, and at an even younger age, 26.) Peron stayed in power in Argentina until 1955, when he was ousted by a military coup, which ruled a dictatorship for nearly 20 years, at which point Peron returned from exile in Spain and resumed the presidency until his death in 1974. Ironically, his third wife, Isabel Martinez became his vice president (a role Eva failed to secure), and upon his death became the first female president of any country in the world. Her subsequent tenure would be no less, if not more controversial than her still celebrated, sanctified, and far more famous predecessor, Eva Duarte. But it's Evita who endures in the public imagination.
The $55 million movie opened at the Chinese in Hlwd on Dec 14, 1996 and on Xmas day in NY. Disney had high expectations of awards recognition, but Oscar only came thru with five technical nominations (and even here missed an obvious nod for costumes). Hlwd went for smaller, quirkier films in '96: Fargo, Secrets & Lies, Shine--with one concession to epic filmmaking: The English Patient--an achievment more admired for successfully translating an "unadaptable" book. Madonna failed to snag a Best Actress nom, tho she clearly had her heart set on it. Still, she did manage to win a Golden Globe in the also-ran "Comedy or Musical" category over two other movie musical stars in non-musical roles: Barbra Streisand (for the godawful Mirror Has Two Faces) and Debbie Reynolds (as Albert Brooks' maddeningly senior Mother). She also won over Frances McDormand's Minnesota cop in Fargo--the eventual Oscar winner. Evita also won the bridesmaid Best Pic (comedy or musical), which didn't earn the film much prestige; concensus of opinion being the movie was no more than a glorified music video. The film earned $50,000,000 domestically (which in the inflationary '90s, ranked it as 31st for the year)--but made another $100 million internationally; by no means a flop. The stage show continues to live more lives; many of them in Spanish speaking nations, as well as revivals in London and one on Bway in 2012. I'm slightly surprised how much I've enjoyed listening to all three recordings of the show I have--each with its own special moment here or there; all of them beautifully orchestrated in their own manner; and variously sung. Patinkin's the most vocally striking Che, Banderas's the sexiest. Lupone is under the throes of early mannerisms, slurring & braying; and tho she has her moments, Covington is better. And so, too, is Madonna who in many cuts earns her keep. As for the better Peron. . . now that I got it into my head, I keep imagining, yearning for. . .Raul Julia. Alas, he died too young at 54 in 1994. Evita took many years to reach the screen, and now it seems ironic that my years living & working in Hlwd were the absolute driest for Bway pickups or movie musicals of any kind. So...

What's new Los Angeles? Seven years in, things were looking less rosy. My sagging screenwriting career, was at the mercy of another bad collaboration. And after dozens of meetings with positive encouragement but no cash advance; after admin temp jobs on the outskirts of studio life; after writing "coverage" on other's mostly dreadful scripts for payment by the pound; after indulging agents and producers alike with pro bono writing; after barely scraping by for several years, maybe it was time to reconsider my goals. Yet, some things were looking up. I took a writing/performance workshop at a gay & lesbian collective in Venice called Highways, leading to my participation in a commerical group show, for which I wrote a long, often funny, rant about life in LA that summed up my deepest frustrations and gave me license to consider moving on. In my modest way, I was starting to get my footing  as a "public" figure. My old stand-up comedy aspirations being channeled into something quirkier, more literary, more me. I also had terrific friends, new and old; and another string of boyfriends, but at least these were all with some positive energy while they lasted. On the deficit side, the '92 Rodney King riots put the city under duress; Zsa Zsa Gabor slapped a cop, traffic got more aggressive, scary--a bunker mentality was taking hold. It felt ugly out there. The Industry was looking more vapid, less intersting. Whatsmore, I was growing too old--forty!  After our landlady died and our rent miraculously plunged to $350 for two years thanks to rigid West Hollywood rent-control laws, the house was finally to be sold. TC & I had six months to make our next, separate, moves. And then the January '94 earthquake set the City on edge. I'd missed the '89 Bay Area shake, so this was my Big One, ridden safely in bed, in a one story house; shelves tumbling down, broken glass everywhere, transformers exploding outside; killing power all around but for our side of the street. We watched the aftermath unfold on TV; endured endless aftershocks and quivered for months when driving under freeways. LA didn't seem like paradise anymore.

By then I had stumbled into another odd job, first when TC hired me to provide snacks for a commerical shoot for his ad agency. More pay for a day's work than I made in a week's temp job, I sought more of it--fortuitously inheriting the full kit of a woman retiring from the business. Craft service, as it's called, is about the worst job on a film set. It starts before dawn, buying fresh donuts and setting up the coffee urn, prepping a buffet breakfast & snacks for a demanding cast & crew; and staying thru the very end, 16-18 hours later. Exhausting beyond any labor I'd done before (or since), the job was tolerable only for its paycheck, which was large enuf to allow me to coast on few days work a month. One gig however was two weeks in a Burbank hangar  for a series of spots  starring  Lily Tomlin, 
playing a dozen characters. I had friends that knew her, as well as a couple of screenplays she would have been perfect for; but the status of my position left me little room but to approach her as humble servant, quick with her preferred snacks and drinks, and an occasional quip. She indulged me with many Polaroids (the era's selfies) and was never less than gracious. But the writing was on the wall; I had fallen from burgeoning Hlwd hyphenate to the guy doing craft service. My latest (once enthusiastic) agent was now dealing mostly with his partner's dying. I was still plugging away on my 4th collaborative screenplay (Bride Meets Groom) while my partners played a good passive/agressive game. Janet, who had first suggested I drop Randy and work with her, brought him back in to mediate when our working styles became too disparate. This poisoned relations all around, and as I struggled to finish a script I no longer liked, Janet provided a new title: Lost Luggage. Indeed. But even my close friends were too discombobulated, too distracted by their own frustrated ambitions and redirected paths to provide consistency of company and support. Everyone was too frantic to slow down and enjoy life. Which led me to wonder...

What's new, San Francisco? I'd been in my old 'hood a bit more frequently as the '90s rolled on--in part en route to a men's retreat I was ongoing up in the hills above Guernville and the Russian River, but also reconnecting with SF friends, who seemed more grounded, less scrambling with life--uncontaminated by the Industry (Hlwd). In particular, Rob, an old LA pal had taken refuge in a large Victorian flat in the Mission District and was living a mellow, yet socially engaging life, which felt especially inviting after LA. I had recently been adopted by an extraordinary stray cat and his welfare became a major concern for me in the wake of our moving. In light of some fanciful notions that I might take a year or so off to travel the world, I thought Rob (who had his own new cat) would be an ideal foster parent for Radish--as I came to name the white beauty who insinuated himself into my life. As it later unfolded, it was Rob who took to travelling (to Japan) and I'd remain in that Victorian flat for ten years, custodian of both Radish and Shannon--two male cats who made immediate detente, peacefully co-habitating for many years ahead. Tho I was again with a roommate, the arrangement was especially attractive; the flat was large and I had two connecting rooms in the middle of the house. Susan McCarthy was out my first weekend; we smoked a joint and let our imaginations run wild to transform the suite into a Haight Ashbury fantasia. I turned one half into a sleeping chamber lush with red velvet drapes and royal blue walls, with black ceiling in gold trim. The other room became my office and library in bright yellow, with a sky blue ceiling filled with paper lanterns strung with lights. It was all so over the top, and became my sanctuary in every sense of the word. That first summer & fall was like falling down a rabbit hole. I was listening to Van Morrison, Peter Gabriel, Rickie Lee Jones. I was enjoying the carnival of gay life in the Castro I had never allowed myself when I lived in the neighborhood; I was watching My So Called Life with a fevered intensity that often left me weeping. I went out on Halloween as Absolutely Fabulous's Patsy. I didn't know who I was anymore.

Relocating north put me within an hour's reach of my parents again; a decidedly mixed blessing; but I felt no obligation to visit them in San Jose more than every six weeks or so. Little pleasure was had by me or them on such labored afternoons; just a mediocre meal and perhaps a few hands of cards, that is, if an argument didn't ensue--which frequently did--my continued failure in life the source of much aggravation and condemnation on their part. Admittedly, I was drifting thru life like a twenty-something, tho I was now over 40. They were in their 70s then, mother slipping into maladies (a stroke, a touch of cancer, increased OCD), father sinking further into paranoia; his body, not the world, now his actual enemy. A bitter, basically unhappy man, he found solace in planning an annual round-the-world excursion for himself after mother grew too fearful to venture on even low-impact cruises. His resolve to travel was the one thing I could respect about his ever-constricting existence. From their perspective my life wasn't exactly encouraging, and tho I still felt a bright future awaited me, I really didn't know where that would be. I was yet expecting my screenwriting career to bloom, and with a new (primitive) portable lap top I sat in local coffeehouses knocking out what would be my final Hlwd effort: The Mayor of Nowhere, in which a reporter stumbles into a hidden California town populated entirely by folk in witness protection (unknown even to each other); upon discovering that Amelia Earhart had in fact, "disappeared" to live out her life here in private (as a lesbian), our hero weighs his golden scoop against destroying the town (as well as his own new romance). In the end he opts not to. It felt fresh, funny, sort of Preston Sturgesy. Now here's a clear case where such plots, among many, would soon be obsolete by the transformation of the world via cellphones, GPS & the Internet. I can't remember how this petered out, but despite my belief I could pursue my Hlwd career from SF, my connections were getting rusty and I was exhausted with the whole, thankless, process.

At first I kept afloat still taking some craft service jobs, driving back to LA for a few days or a week. It was ever more exhausting and I knew I had to do something else. My new bud & mentor, Larry, got it thru my skull that the world did not owe me a living as an artist--which is sort of how I had walked thru life up to that point--such a princess. But I was happy living the Bohemian life, or at least thought I was; and yet so tired of being poverty's chew toy. I couldn't return to life as a book clerk, so I went back to temping--which in SF, unlike LA, was for companies unaffiliated with the entertainment industry. A 2-week Xmas replacement as receptionist/clerk at a general contracting firm, Fisher Development, turned permanent when they offered me a job to establish & run a mail room for a company opening a dozen satellite offices across the country. This appealed to my sense of organization and order, as well as promising a good deal of autonomy--even to hiring my own (younger, more malleable) assistant. A steady paycheck was a nice bonus, which if not spectacular was better than the Disney payroll. And tho located in a dull, industrial neighborhood, it was a 10 min drive into an ample parking lot. As a waiter, Rob worked at night, which let us share the flat by rarely seeing each other--which over time was a blessing. What at first seemed a welcome Summer of Love-redux, Rob's life-style proved a little too stuck in the Haight-Ashbury ethos. The frequent LSD was one thing (he'd take it just to do his ironing) but once he quit AA he reverted to alcoholicism--which was, blessedly, one thing I'd never had to deal with before. Our friendship steadily deteriorated and within a year he packed up and left for Japan. Needing a roommate, I snagged a Mexican admin at Fisher, who was affable and, happily for me, equally rarely at home. Later he proved to be a sly & secretive man who took a powder from Fisher when charges of embezzlement loomed. By then I had a serious boyfriend, ready to move in.

One year after returning to SF, I met Greg Okulove on Cinco de Mayo; and in a way that I can only compare to the meeting of Radish & Shannon we took to each other easily, unconditionally. We weren't an obvious match but enjoyed each other's company in every way. He indulged my interest in Bway & Hlwd, and I found his leanings toward spirituality and metaphysics a refreshing contrast. There was zero drama between us, and we were physically comfortable with each other--it all flowed into a river of inevitability: we were mates. Three weeks after meeting, we each set off on separate previously planned "vision quests,"--Greg's an actual wilderness ceremony; mine more of a Grand Tour of Arizona from the Canyon to Tucson, visiting two friends from my men's retreats. It's funny how often you think you'll return to one place or another--as I did after this introduction to the Sonoran desert. I have yet to go back. By '96 it had been five years since I'd gone back to NY.  Greg had never been so we went in October, which coincided with my once-collaborator, now established playwright, Lisa Loomer's Off-Bway debut with her brilliant play, The Waiting Room, which I'd seen at the Taper in LA; and to this day remains my favorite of her works. Unfortunately the NY production was botched by the director and the play wasn't received as well as it had been in LA. Under better circumstances it would've made it to Bway. We also saw the new Chicago (more on that later) and Forbidden Broadway. But not the red-hot Rent. We made a side trip up to Boston, which was entirely new to me, to see my relocated Laura, with her (final?) partner, Elaine: a theater prof at Boston U. I found the city charming and on the scale of SF; and returned soon on my own to explore, making pilgrimage to the Shubert, Colonial and Wilbur theaters--the hallowed halls that saw so many Bway classics molded on their stages. But no shows were in try-out then. Boston was charming, and not just because it had been 13 years since I'd gone anywhere new. I would be another 14 before I'd leave American shores again. It would take Playbill and Europe to reopen my foreign travels, and after that. . .

What's New Buenos Aires? I'm new, or at least I was when first I set foot there in Dec. 2012. That is yet to come, but I need mention it now as how it remains at the core of Evita. Lloyd-Webber's score doesn't reproduce, or attempt a direct pastiche of Argentine music--it's a riff on it, a sampler incorporating rock, samba and flamenco. But by its subject and iconography, Evita is Argentina. Kander & Ebb would have their own Argentine musical, with Kiss of the Spider Woman, but Evita--the woman--remains ever present in BA--the Southern Hemisphere's Big Apple (or was that only Rice's allusion?) Her image glistens on a major  downtown  highrise  on  Avenida  Nueve  de  Julio
--the widest boulevard in the world; an entire city block demolished along its one kilometre length to make for its width. You'd have thought the Peron's had built it, but it was begun in 1937, before Eva had hit town. Her final resting place in a rather indistinct tomb at Recoleta Cemetary is made a regular pilgrimage by tourists and devotees alike. For a city with no topographical distinction Buenos Aires is remarkably beautiful--a mix of NY and Paris, but with a Latin beat. (I've been back in 2015, and will return in 2017.) What I love most about it, however, is how little it's known by Americans, compared to the cities of Europe and Asia. But its controversial First Lady--dead over 60 years--remains a known quantity across the globe thanks to the whim of a musical theater writer. Madonna hoped to seal her immortality on Evita's legend. But thru no real fault of her own, the movie Evita hasn't made any traction toward classic status. From my perspective both stage & screen Evita's have never proved satisfactory--none have given me as much pleasure as just listening to the record. Good Night & Thank You. Indeed.

Next Up: '90s Also Rans

Report Card: Evita
Overall Film:  B-
Bway Fidelity:  A-
Songs from Bway:  23
Songs Cut from Bway: 0 
New Songs: 
Standout Numbers:  "Rainbow Tour"
     "And the Money Kept Rolling In"
     "Goodnight & Thank You"
Casting: Commercial, but apt
Standout Cast: Antonio Banderas
Sorethumb Cast: Jonathan Pryce
Cast from Bway:  None
Direction: Epic music video
Choreography:  Tango-ish, sparse
Scenic Design: Dusty, grainy Argentina
Costumes:  Record 85 frocks for Madonna
Titles:  White on black screen over
     soundtrack of Spanish melodrama
Oscar Noms: 5: Cinematography, Editing,
     Sound, Art Direction; Won 1: Song:
     "You Must Love Me"

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