Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice
New Wimbledon Theatre
“So what happens now?” Why, another Evita on another tour, that’s what.
Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright have teamed up to oversee a new production of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1976 musical, a show which remains perennially popular thirty-seven years after its debut. Michael Grandage's London production of the show transferred to Broadway last year, with Elena Roger as Evita and Ricky Martin as Che, and Tomson and Kenwright’s revival now takes to the road for a thirteen date, four-month UK tour.
Rice and Lloyd Webber’s take on the short life of Eva Duarte—documenting her journey from modest beginnings to a position as Argentina’s “spiritual leader” via her marriage to Col Juan Perón—boasts one of the stronger, more seductive of the duo’s scores, and while the second half features too many reprises and climaxes for its own good, the best of the compositions convey character information and sketch the political context quite effectively.
That's not to say that the show succeeds in deeply interrogating the paradoxes of Evita’s contradictory politics, which combine socialist rhetoric and sympathy for the country’s impoverished “descamisados” with a glamorous lifestyle and significant feathering of her own nest. But the use of Che as a narrator-commentator allows the piece to keep a certain ironic distance from its subject as she shifts between roles and archetypes.
Madalena Alberto’s performance as Evita delineates those shifts well. Alberto’s singing sometimes gets shrieky on the more up-tempo numbers but she’s skilful at using the songs to convey the contradictory aspects of Evita’s personality: grasping ambition on “Buenos Airies,” seductiveness on a slinky “I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You,” vulnerability on “You Must Love Me.”
A poignant rendition of “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” by Sarah McNicholas as Perón’s mistress proves to be one of the production’s highlights, though there’s scope for improvement in the male leads. Mark Heenehan’s Perón is too stolid, and Marti Pellow as Che could inject more sardonic humour into the role, though Pellow sings well.
The entire production tends toward the overly reverent. But while not resisting some moments of kitsch (Mark Howett’s lighting too often resorts to bathing the heroine in an angelic glow) the evening production proves enjoyable throughout. A slick design by Matthew Wright—big on moving staircases—conjures the various locations ably, and a particularly accomplished ensemble do well by Bill Deamer’s choreography, adding up to an accomplished revival that’s worth catching wherever you can.
Reviewer: Alex Ramon