Evita continues at the Phoenix Theatre, London until 14 October.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
After touring since January, the last and best Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice collaboration is settling in at the Phoenix for a strictly limited 12-week West End run and, like vintage wine, it improves with age.
This time around we have pocket dynamo Emma Hatton, a recent Elphaba in Wicked, in the title role and a little-known Italian, Gian Marco Schiaretti, taking over from pop singer Marti Pellow and making his UK debut as Che.
The story of how a young girl from the sticks ruthlessly works her way up to become more than just a President’s wife, but a beacon of light for her divided country before and after her early death, is as fascinating a piece of history as ever, and those wonderful songs simply get more wonderful by the year.
Not just ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’, which reached No.1 in the charts, and the bittersweet ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’ but so many others – ‘I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You’, ‘High Flying Adored’, ‘Buenos Aires’, ‘Rainbow High’ and ‘You Must Love Me’, to name but five.
No other Lloyd Webber musical before or since has matched it for sheer quantity of hummable material and while Rice’s lyrics don’t always work, the positives far outweigh the negatives.
Bill Kenwright, the producer and co-director (with Bob Tomson), has taken a punt on casting Schiaretti, as Che, the cynical narrator, and while he won’t initially put as many bums on seats as Pellow or as David Essex did in the original, he isn’t short of admirers, of both sexes, judging by the standing ovation and volume of clapping.
Could that reception have had anything to do with his rugged good looks? I couldn’t possibly comment. But this smooth tenor does happen to sing very well too as, of course, does the power-packed Hatton, who at times looks remarkably like Elaine Paige, the first Eva Duarte in 1978 who rose from bit player to big West End star overnight.
You wouldn’t bet against Hatton becoming a star of similar magnitude. She has a voice to die for, although her belt can overwhelm the words now and then, drowning the climax of a song.
This actress puts heart and soul into it, her acting is excellent and she’s a welcome addition to the long line who have played Evita, from Paige to Marti Webb, Stephanie Lawrence, Elena Roger, Patti LuPone, Madonna and Madalena Alberto.
Kevin Stephen-Jones, as Peron, is another newcomer to the show. The weak general quickly realises that to stay in power he has to make every possible use of his fragile wife, the workload and travelling around the world at least partly responsible for her death at 33.
There is not much emotion in Evita, which weakens the show in the eyes of some critics, but their final song together ‘Dice Are Rolling’ with the stricken Eva in Peron’s arms, and then Eva’s heartbreaking ‘You Must Love Me’, beautifully sung by Hatton, do finally get the tear-ducts working.
Irish songbird Sarah O’Connor’s role as Peron’s last mistress before Eva replaces her and throws her out doesn’t last long but long enough to give full rein to ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’, arguably the best number in the show.
Oscar Balmaseda stays on as Eva’s early admirer Magaldi, as does Bill Deamer as choreographer, Matthew Wright’s design, David Steadman as production musical director and most of the other creatives.
‘The Money Keeps Rolling In’ (to quote part of the title of one of its numbers) and why not? There’s every prospect of this masterpiece keeping box offices busy for many, many years to come.
Tickets for Evita are available HERE.