Evita is amongst the best Lloyd Webber/ Rice collaborations. Its themes of power, fame, human triumph, tragedy and frailty are Shakespearean in ambition, wrapped in a popular accessible package which delights audiences wherever it goes. Marti Pellow is the big name draw but the success of the show depends upon the casting of Eva Peron, played here by Madelena Alberto. Touring productions often have to be frugal with chorus numbers to keep costs down. But not here. A large chorus provides a rich vocal sound and the numbers for some stunning dance scenes , with Buenos Aries a delight, a tribute to choreographer Bill Needham’s skills.
An innovative set comprising rising and falling pillars and moving staircases and walkways provides variety and depth to the stage. The pivotal Don’t Cry for me Argentina is performed from a balcony created at the front of the stage with the audience becoming Eva’s adoring crowd, a performance moving and perfect in every respect.
The narrative charts the vertiginous trajectory of social-climbing Eva Duarte, an ambitious actress who meets and marries Colonel Juan Peron, later president of Argentina. Her appeal to the people anticipates the Lady Diana phenomena, her ruthless ambition is more recently associated with the likes of Madonna ,who so memorably played her in the film adaptation in a case of art imitating life.
Narrator and antagonist Che is omnipresent on stage to question the couple’s behaviour. During the visually and musically compelling And the Money Keeps Rolling In he stands as an irritant, questioning where the money is going, demanding to know the fate of opponents, and reflecting on whether the lives of ordinary people has really changed whilst Eva’s has been transformed. The show opens and closes with death scenes, an old, but effective dramatic device that affords pageantry and pathos to the show.
The two acts are quite different in tone. In the first half narrative pace and crowd scenes dominate in Peron’s rise to power. In the second half, the narrative becomes more intimate culminating in the powerful death scene. Madalena Alberto is superb as Evita. Her singing soars. Her acting commands and her stage presence dominates. Marti Pellow plays an understated Che as the narrator, singing admirably and content to leave the limelight to Alberto. The physically tall Mark Heenhan is an imposing Peron, and Sarah McNicholas as Mistress makes the most of her moment in the sun with a scintillating Another Suitcase In Another Hall. Conductor and arranger Matthew Loughran gilds many of the arrangements with Latin rhythms. Don’t Cry For Me Argentina has rarely sounded so soulful and tender ably complimented by Alberto’s Latin roots.
Eva ages more than 15 years before our eyes, a feat enabled both by Alberto’s talent for transformation and the subtle work of the wardrobe and make up department. She is girly and carefree when first arriving in Buenos Aires, but once she has captured her man and scents power she transforms into a driven power dressing, platinum blonde. I’d be Surprisingly Good For You, her duet with Peron, is a masterpiece of acting through song as she seduces and captures her meal-ticket. You Must Love Me is heart wrenching, plaintiff, and vulnerable.
Co-Directors Bob Thomson and Bill Kenwright have excelled in this revival which is lavish, engaging and meticulously presented, and runs from Monday 19th to Saturday 31st August.