Evita continues at the Dominion Theatre, London until 1 November.
Originally written in 1976, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical Evita was groundbreaking in many different ways. Despite the proliferation of mob scenes throughout, Evita is essentially a three-person musical – a political love-triangle of sorts with the narrator (originally more than a hint of Che Guevara) offering an insider’s view on the state of Argentina under Peron’s fascist regime.
An unlikely subject even by today’s standards, Lloyd Webber created a majestic, vibrant score that hit a chord with the pop idiom of the day while referencing the Latin influence of the source. Lyricist Tim Rice’s work on the show was equally fresh, threading intelligent political intrigue through thrilling recitative, while maintaining a strong poetic and often romantic note to the writing. A concept album was created, featuring Julie Covington and Colm Wilkinson, before the original stage production made Elaine Paige a major star in the West End.
The lack of a libretto may have been less groundbreaking, but Harold Prince’s direction and notably Timothy O’Brien and Tazeena Firth’s minimalist design combined to herald a massive change in the way musicals could be crafted. Nearly 40 years down the line and after at least one major West End revival in 2006, featuring Elena Roger, Philip Quast and Matt Rawle, the producer Bill Kenwright (who directs with Bob Tomson) has brought his popular touring production to the Dominion starring Madalena Alberto as Eva and Wet Wet Wet vocalist Marti Pellow as Che.
Alberto’s turn as Eva, honed by months on tour, is by far and away the best reason to see this production. A few minor compromises have been made to the score (as was the case for the movie and most productions since) but ultimately Alberto’s powerful vocals capture the ruthless energy of the ‘local girl made good’. The heartfelt plea of ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ rings out with truth in unswerving defiance of the middle-classes and Eva’s Final Broadcast genuinely breaks the heart.
Unfortunately Pellow fares less well in this transfer. Having gained good notices for the role previously, the actor seems all at sea on a bigger stage, delivering a performance that seriously lacks dynamism. Pellow’s complacent Che lurks around the vast Dominion stage, never quite seeming to know what to do with himself.
Thankfully this production boasts a superb Magaldi, with Ben Forster belting out a fabulously cheesy ‘Night of a Thousand Stars’, and Sarah McNicholas brings a child-like fragility to ‘Another Suitcase, Another Hall’. Matthew Cammelle’s Peron may lack the menace of Joss Ackland or the suavity of Philip Quast but at least he provides Alberto with the necessary engagement.
The years have seen a few changes to the original format, most notably the inclusion of the number ‘You Must Love Me’ which features in the Alan Parker movie version. The design has softened around the edges to lend more realism to the piece, and although manual trucks are a staple of touring scenery, they tend to look out of place in today’s West End. Thus the pomp and ceremony of Eva’s funeral is cheapened slightly as a couple of soldiers wheel the open casket on.
Bill Deamer has staged some lively set pieces but generally the choreography lacks connection to the narrative and Lloyd Webber and Rice’s sumptuous ‘Waltz For Eva and Che’ – a personal highlight of this musical – lacks even a hint of dance. In the West End for only 55 performances ahead of White Christmas for the holiday season, Evita may not have the guts of the original but Lloyd Webber’s score, Rice’s lyrics and Alberto’s powerful central performance are definitely worth a look.