EVITA HAS, OVER THE YEARS, BECOME DISTILLED INTO A POPULAR MEMORY OF ‘DON’T CRY FOR ME ARGENTINA’ AND IT IS NOT UNTIL YOU SEE THE FULL STAGE PRODUCTION AGAIN THAT YOU ARE REMINDED WHAT A COMPLEX MUSICAL THIS IS.
The show focuses on the life of Eva Peron, the second wife of Argentine political leader Juan Peron, and follows her early life, her rise from actress to political player, her charity work and eventual death. In fact, the show opens with her death and funeral, a striking choral requiem with black and white film footage signposting that this is a biographical examination of historical significance. And therefore not your average musical. Inevitably, as Evita, the leading lady was on-stage throughout virtually the whole show and Lucy Maden played her with cool assurance, whilst maintaining technical clarity, in what must be one of the most difficult roles in musical theatre. Her soaring soprano voice captured the show-business appeal of Evita to the people and she dealt admirably with the many changes in tempo and the physicality of the role. Lucy also led the ensemble in much of the dancing and was just as accomplished here.
TANGO AND SAMBAS
Michelle Gadsby’s choreography was stunning. In the big dance numbers, influenced by the tango and the sambas, you might expect this, and there was certainly enough content here to satisfy the most ardent ‘Strictly’ fan. The real skill was in choreographing the more difficult songs, such as ‘Buenos Aires’ or ‘The Money Kept Rolling In’, with an almost graphic simplicity that reflected not only the stark staging but the graphic imagery of the time, creating a very stylized look. Narrating the show, ‘Che’ provides a critical external perspective, allowing us to view the egotistical and greedy motivations of Eva and Juan more clearly. James Nelson as ‘Che’ was faultless: he was entirely relaxed, his warm voice seemingly effortless, moving from charming joker to frustrated activist, emotion conveyed through every word and movement.
Evita’s move from actress to political figurehead was created by a series of relationships, the first with a tango singer, Agustin Magaldi.
James Highton’s strong, rich vocals belied the character of Magaldi, whose talents were apparently questionable. Juan Peron was played with powerful masculinity and sensitivity by David Burton, and again backed up by rich vocals. Laura Barker as ‘The Mistress’ sang the renowned ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’ with passion.
It was great to actually see the enthusiasm on the faces of the orchestra as they opened Act 2 – a brilliant and challenging score, with changing rhythms and tempos, a latin American thread running through the background, but including choral, rock and even a waltz, they were clearly having a great time but producing a very tight sound. The ensemble had a huge supporting role to play in this show, and vocals, dancing and acting were all strong. Given such meaty material to work with, they all seemed to thrive on it. The final song, a male quartet singing ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ was remarkable – thrilling male harmonies, power and passion – the emotional impact on the audience was palpable. Eva would have been proud.
Reviewer: Kathryn McAuley