Almost four years ago, Bill Kenwright’s revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita” played at Wolverhampton. It was one of the best productions of the show I had ever seen, so I approached this new production, with a fresh cast, with some trepidation, topping the last show was going to be difficult.
Director Bob Tomson has significantly reworked the show creating something neither better, nor worse, but different. The part of the Narrator is taken by Gian Marco Schiaretti, making his UK musical theatre debut. He is magnificent, boasting a strong voice, and an imposing physical presence which delighted the women in the audience, particularly when he strutted in a red vest top. He commands the stage in an unusually prominent portrayal of the part.
Emma Hatton takes the part of Eva Peron having recently completed a West End run taking the title role in Wicked. It is a distinctive reading of the role. She eschews any attempt at a Latin accent , speaking and singing with a London timbre, brash and confident. “ Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” is well dispatched, but it is in a moving, “ You Must Love Me” and self- congratulatory “High Flying Adored” that she puts her stamp on the role.
Scott Sheady has created a lavishly costumed piece to compliment Mathew Wrights lavish set. These pleasing visuals are accompanied by beautiful and stirring orchestration, in the hands of musical director David Steadman. The standard of singing both from the leads, and the ensemble is impressively high throughout, never more so than when Sarah O’Connor, as the mistress, delivers a stunning “Another Suitcase in Another Hall”
This story of power, politics and intrigue, although first performed almost forty years ago now plays to an audience experiencing a political world which has Trump and Marine Le Penn amongst its cast, and the life of Lady Diana spencer as context for mass adulation and hysteria. Thus, this tale of the rise of Eva Peron has worn well, and earns its place as a contemporary drama in ways that Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice could not have anticipated when they wrote it.
The centre of gravity of this production has shifted towards the Narrator . Gian Marco Schiaretti has set a new benchmark for the role as he stalks the stage, Eva, and the story. He is no bystander or supine commentator, becoming part of the action.
Emma Hatton in the first act, has Eva more as a girl gang leader, than closet first lady. It is in the stunning “ High Flying Adored” sequence, complete with chorus wheeling portable full length mirrors that her Peron comes into its own. In that first act, and for “Don’t cry For Me Argentina” I feared that she lacked the poise and finesse to carry off the role, but those fears were allayed as the second act races to its conclusion and she becomes Eva Peron, particularly in an evocative, poignant, tear jerking finale. As Schiaretti thrilled his female fans in his tight vest top, so Hatton teases her male fans with an onstage costume change revealing her stockings and suspenders.
A great show. A production which will reward those who have seen the show before, and impress and delight those who are experiencing “Evita” for the first time. Runs till the 13th May and continues on nationwide tour.