Evita, a touring production, reviewed at the New Wimbledon Theatre (15-18 May).
They say the old ones are the best and here we go again with another tour of the famous 1978 Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice collaboration that turned Elaine Paige from virtual unknown to superstar. Call it what you will – musical, pop operetta – but few shows have such a strong story married to so many instantly recognisable songs.
Thirty five years on, it still puts bums on seats – many a West End theatre would give its right arm to have such a big midweek house – and Wimbledon’s large, buzzy audience went home singing happily if not entirely in tune.
This time around Evita could be the making of another ‘unknown’ (or at least to a mainstream audience), the petite but powerful Portuguese singer Madalena Alberto. Although this little lady from Lisbon has a few hard acts to follow, notably Paige, Patti LuPone (the first to play Eva on Broadway), Marti Webb (who took over in the West End and later starred in a tour in the 1990s), and Elena Roger, who lit up London in 2006 and reprised the part on Broadway six years later, she wouldn’t be far behind any of them.
The standing ovation she won – a proper one, not just a few fans but every member of an enthused audience – was thoroughly well deserved.
It is, however, not her name but that of Marti Pellow (once of Wet Wet Wet but now an established theatre performer) on the billboards that is selling the tickets, and he continues the tradition of a big-name pop singer playing the narrator’s role. David Essex, of course, was the first Che and playing opposite Roger on Broadway was heartthrob Ricky Martin.
Always a class act, Pellow is fine and clear voiced, as is Mark Heenehan, the devious and quietly evil Peron who works his glamorous and revered partner into an early grave to keep himself in power, and Nic Gibney as Eva’s first lover Magaldi. But it is Alberto’s show and she makes the very most of a shedload of great songs.
There’s the classic ’Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina’, the song Julie Covington sang on the concept album and took to number one in the mid-70s, but it is ‘You Must Love Me’, the add-on that Lloyd Webber wrote into the 1996 movie for Madonna, that is the real tear-jerker, coming as it does with Eva close to death.
‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’ is beautifully sung by Sarah McNicholas in her five-minute cameo as Peron’s outgoing mistress, making way for the scheming Eva, while ‘Rainbow High’, ‘High Flying Adored’, ‘And the Money Keeps Rolling In (And Out)’ and ‘I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You’ would have been massive in their own right, had they not been fighting for places in the pecking order behind some of the most hummable show songs of the modern era.
Ubiquitous producer Bill Kenright and director Bob Tomson are old hands who have backed plenty of winners in their time, and this is yet another one to add to the list (choreography is by recent Olivier Award winner for Top Hat, Bill Deamer). A cracking night is coming to a city pretty near you sometime soon. Don’t miss it.
Other tour dates are Milton Keynes (May 20-June 1), Glasgow (June 3-15), Liverpool (June 24-29), Sheffield (July 1-13), Norwich (July 15-27), Salford (July 29-Aug 10), Wolverhampton (Aug 19-31), Belfast (Sept 2-14), Truro (Sept 16-28), Swansea (Sept 30-Oct 5), Bristol (Oct 7-12), Southampton (Oct 14-19).