Honorable mentions: “Waltz for Eva and Che,” “A New Argentina”
Depending on which Evita you know, your opinion of Eva herself is necessarily changed. I’ve always been partial to the original Broadway version with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin, more for LuPone than anything else; I adore Patinkin’s Che, but LuPone sings a practically impossible part with verve and feeling and style, a literally singular performance. Her Evita paints Eva as the height of Shakespearean ambition, an overreacher and climber, sleeping her way from man to man to get what she wants. The hero of that show is not Che, who throws stones and only strikes glancing blows; it is not Peron, who is Eva’s tool; it certainly isn’t Eva. It’s the upper-class, who loom and criticize and generally disapprove of her lower-class sensibilities and her hard-driving enterprise. Other Evas are more sympathetic. Somehow Elaine Paige’s Evita is much kinder, and Madonna’s Evita is sort of an Embarkation for Cythera version of the musical.
With that all in mind, how one reads “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You” is based largely on how one views Eva, and there’s no one way to view her. Either “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You” is like watching a housecat go outside and eviscerate some squirrel, or it’s like watching a stray cat chase a squirrel and eat it because it would starve otherwise. If Eva is a whore (“It’s an easy mistake!” Che says later in the show; “They still call me ‘Admiral,’ even though I gave up the sea, years ago!”), then Peron is easy prey, manipulated into sleeping with her just like Magaldi was manipulated into taking her to Buenos Aires twenty minutes earlier. If Eva is using her sexuality like a scalpel, taking advantage of a macho culture with its veins facing out, then she’s more Claire Underwood than a refugee from a Hall and Oates single.
The musical is, in the sheet music and in the book, fairly ambiguous, which is why LuPone’s Eva is Lady Macbeth and Paige’s is Portia. “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You,” in all of its sinuous glory, is the perfect song to characterize Eva in either case. It’s hard to like her in any event – attempts to make Eva likable tend to be cloying – but this song makes her motivation clear even as she winds her way around Peron and in so doing winds him around her pinky. The music for this song, as it does in most of the good musicals, returns again with different lyrics. For the most part, it appears in scenes where Eva gets Peron to do something he wouldn’t do otherwise, like stay in Argentina when he could “find job satisfaction in Paraguay.” She’s aghast, and they stay in Argentina where, as we all find out in Act Two, she proves to be more than just good for him.