Michaeline: Evita’s Structure and Conflict

Official portrait of the Perons in evening dress looking very happy.

Eva Peron doesn’t look like an action hero with agency, but oh, how she hustled. She moved half a continent by the time she died. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

This week, I’ve been plowing through snowstorms in the car while listening to the soundtrack of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, Evita. It’s perfect music for when you are crawling along at 35 km per hour (what is that in miles? I’m not sure, but I’m afraid it’ll sound even more dreadfully slow). There’s a warm Latin beat, and the white-hot chronic anger of the heroine fueling various project. It makes me feel cozy in my little rolling deathtrap.

I don’t think anyone would deny that Evita works. According to the Internet Broadway Database, it’s been performed 1,567 times, and according to Wikipedia, it took award after award in 1978 and 1980. And I love it. But the heroine’s goal is a little fuzzy, and there isn’t a single overarching conflict lock that unites the story.

Evita is the story of a young Argentinian girl who goes to the capital at the age of fifteen, then proceeds to get modelling jobs, movie jobs, radio serials and finally the heart of a military man and through him, the reins to control the country. And then she dies, because . . . well, because everyone dies. But it’s particularly important that we follow her to her death because she is not a Good Girl. If she’d died at age 90, everyone would resent her luck and discover her lies, cheats and scams (maybe). But, dying at 33, she throws a nation into mourning for the death of her potential. And she gets what she deserves (according to the storyteller) for bucking the natural order of the world.

So, that takes the story out of the romance category, and possibly out of the women’s journey category, too. There is love. There is romance. And there’s one hell of a journey. But there’s are very complex characters who don’t get a happy ending for themselves, not in this story. They get a happy moment of the soul, and then retribution for their sins happens.

So . . . my question is, how can we pull off this trick? What’s necessary to get away from the overarching conflict lock between two human beings? I suspect it’s partly have an incandescent hero at the center, one who fights society, poverty and herself through a series of carefully crafted vignettes that are full of conflict themselves. And maybe it helps if you aren’t writing a novel, but are writing a musical.

What do you think? Che Guevera could be considered her main antagonist, I suppose, but he’s there more to haunt and goad her into confessions or truth. But, they don’t block each other in their goals, and he disappears before the ending of the story. He’s more a bouncing board or an echo chamber, I feel. He definitely acts the agency to be a true antagonist. (As a matter of fact, he’s a lot like a lot of my heroines! Reflective, critical, not doing anything to move anything along but acting as a catalyst.)

My best wishes to those of you finishing up your NaNo experience. If you’ve won, congratulations! If you haven’t, just remember that three days of effort is better than no days of effort, and get cracking! It’ll be December soon . . . .

6 thoughts on “Michaeline: Evita’s Structure and Conflict

  1. I love that musical, but I’ve never thought about it from a plot perspective. And that painting is gorgeous.

    Evita works, on one level, because the protagonist is so dynamic and magnetic. And, of course, the music is great. But Che is more of a ghost than an antagonist. And, you’re right, it’s just a series of vignettes.

    It works as a musical and as a biography and, probably, as literary fiction. Not as genre fiction, though.

    My all-time favorite musical is Wicked, in part because my all-time favorite movie musical is Wizard of Oz. It works because Elphaba is such a wonderful protagonist–flawed, driven, completely sympathetic. And Glinda is a great antagonist–pink and white to Elphaba’s black and green, sunny to Elphaba’s gloom, shallow and cheerful to Elphaba’s angst. And Elphaba strives so hard, it’s impossible not to root for her. She speaks to the odd man out in all of us.

    And, of course, it completely upends the Facts as We Know Them.

    • LOL, I was just talking to my daughter about my favorite musicals of all time, and I think Wicked is my favorite, too. I just love the strong women, and the exploration of what really is good and what really is evil. There’s the really hard idea that Evil that pretends to be Good inadvertently does more good than Good that appears to be Evil and must flee . . . . And that Good and Evil can be buddies, and Good can influence Evil . . . .

      Although, it’s not so much between Good and Evil as it is between Conviction and Appearances or something . . . . Glinda isn’t really bad. She’s just selfish and shallow and rule-following to the point of letting bad things happen as long as they are within the confines of the rules.

      (-: Or maybe not. So complicated. That’s why I love it. It doesn’t tell you what to think. It provides some possible avenues for thought, and lets you wrestle with the implications for real life.

      • “Glinda isn’t really bad. She’s just selfish and shallow and rule-following to the point of letting bad things happen as long as they are within the confines of the rules.” I believe that was the Nazi’s defense at Nuremberg.

        Also, the music and libretto are absolutely awesome. I think I could listen to a loop of just “Defying Gravity” (my personal anthem as I battle uphill to get a book published) and “For Good” for hours without complaint.

        • Exactly! All those cute German Rolfs, running around and persecuting the families of their would-be sweethearts because of “orders” and “it seems like a good idea.” (Oh, there’s a sixth musical for me. How could I forget The Sound of Music?) They are all Glindas. Evil isn’t twisted and ugly. Evil is often an unconsidered consequence, not a main philosophy . . . .

          I love those two songs, too. (-: Get me started, and I would be very hard-pressed to choose a favorite. The line about breaking the rules is very inspirational, though. “I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game.” Elphaba needed to find someone playing the same game she was playing, though. She lost because she didn’t have enough allies . . . .

  2. London’s been fabulous for musicals lately, which makes me very happy. We’ve had Sweeney Todd with Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel (loved it!) and Kiss Me, Kate – loved it, squared. Next month I’m going to Kinky Boots, then for my birthday Guys and Dolls, followed by Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl – really looking forward to all of them.

    I wish somebody would revive Thoroughly Modern Millie – you put me on to that, Micki, thank you – and with great musicians probably my all-time fave would be Return to the Forbidden Planet. Or maybe The Rocky Horror Show, though really they should retire that since nobody will ever come close to Tim Curry as Frank N Furter.

    You’ll probably guess from the above that Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber don’t really do it for me, though clearly I’m in a minority as they have a portfolio of mega-hits. I’d guess the secret to Evita is the protagonist. As Jenny C frequently told us, the heroine doesn’t have to be good, she has to be fascinating, and Eva Peron has one hell of a story.

    • Rice and Webber do have a lot of megahits. I got caught in Evita when I went for Antonio Banderas. (Oh, and he does deliver, at least for me.) I really like Madonna in her 1930s phase, too — Evita and the Dick Tracy soundtrack, as well.

      I’ve only seen three musicals, I think. No, four, if you count movies that I distinctly remember watching. No, wait, five, but the soundtrack to Hairspray was much better than the movie. Sweeney Todd was one of them, and I think it’s absolute genius and totally brilliant . . . however, I hate them for making me hum a little ditty about unwitting cannibalism under my breath every time something tasty comes out of the kitchen. The song about the knives/razor blades also comes out of my subconscious at inappropriate times (-:.

      I should make an effort to see more. (Wait, I saw Oklahoma twice (-:. My musicals keep increasing!) I’m so glad that London is enjoying a very good season!

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