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"She's demanding of the people around her," says Parker (director of Fame and Mississippi Burning), who got the film made after at least three other directors had tried and failed. "But she's not a cliche diva stamping her foot. She's very intelligent. You've got to make sure you have the right answer when she has a question. She's a control freak, but so am I. When there was a problem, I would just say, 'Let her and me solve it.' " Madonna responds in kind: "Alan was very supportive during the shooting. He let me sort of follow my own instincts in a lot of cases. We had both been prepared to expect the worst from each other. And then we got together, and it was probably the smoothest working experience I've ever had in terms of a collaboration."

The other person Madonna managed to win over was Andrew Lloyd Webber. (He and Rice had sold the rights to Evita but retained approval of the casting.) In 1993, when Madonna was involved in an earlier effort to make the film, Lloyd Webber was quoted as saying she was too old to play Evita. "What I said was that by the time anybody gets around to making the movie, she'll be too old," he now explains. Vocally, he admits, Madonna did not come to the role with the powerhouse pipes of such stage Evitas as Elaine Paige and Patti LuPone. But she worked with a vocal coach in New York City, and Lloyd Webber helped by lowering the score a few keys. "She doesn't claim to have the biggest voice," he says, "but theater isn't the same as cinema. If you had done the score exactly as it was in the theater, it might have gotten very wearing."

He maintained his confidence even after a disastrous initial recording session, when Madonna was forced to launch into the show's biggest number, Don't Cry for Me Argentina, backed by an oversize, 84-piece orchestra whose members had never before played together. Lloyd Webber was upset with the musicians, Parker had first-day jitters and Madonna went home in tears. "I was so nervous," she says, "because I knew that Andrew had had reservations about me, and here I'm singing the hardest song in the piece. And all of a sudden there with everybody for the first time, it was really tense." Lloyd Webber and Parker met with her later, decided to bring in a new conductor and musicians, and started the recording sessions over from scratch.

The whole ordeal of making the film seems to have produced--dare we say it?--yet another Madonna, softer, more chastened. Or maybe just more calculated. The former shock mistress brought tears to Oprah Winfrey's studio audience when she described feeling her baby kicking on Mother's Day. Department stores may be pushing the dolled-up "Evita look," but Madonna has switched to pastel colors, soft makeup and a demure, Catholic-schoolgirl hairstyle. (She donned the Evita look for the film's Hollywood premiere, but otherwise, she says, "it's something for special occasions. You're not going to see me with my hair up in a chignon, wearing padded shoulders and a nipped-in-at-the-waist suit every day, that's for sure.") Accepting a Billboard magazine music award on Dec. 4, she thanked her fans, "who have stuck by me through all the years, through thick and thin, when even I wasn't sure exactly what I was doing."

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