Lyrics by Tim Rice, Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
The London stage has a new darling following the explosive arrival of Argentinian musical actress, Elena Roger. This multi-talented lady has it all and while she occupies the part of Eva Duarte Peron, tickets at the Adelphi will be hard to come by.
There is far more to Michael Grandage's marvellous revival of this musical, which is now almost thirty years old, than a single starring performance. Grandage is fast proving himself to be possibly the best and certainly the most versatile director in town, both at his own theatre the Donmar and on much larger stages with both straight plays, such as his multi-award-winning Don Carlos and musicals, most recently Guys and Dolls.
Though the opening, which follows the heroine's funeral cortege, is striking, the initial setting would hardly set the world on fire. This is Grandage's favoured designer, Christopher Oram's little game with the audience.
As soon as the baby-faced 15 year-old hooks up with an ageing tango singer played by Gary Milner, and gets her meal ticket to Buenos Aires, the initial set lifts to reveal a marvellous triptych of palatial balconied facades.
From the start, this determined heroine has unbounded ambition, encapsulated when she sings "I Wanna be in Buenos Aires, Big Apple". In no time, she is sleeping her way to fame as an actress, wittily ditching lover after lover once they have served their purpose in her great scheme accompanied by the catchy "Goodnight and Thank You".
This last song is delivered by Matt Rawle's Ché, in this production not the bandido Guevara but a desperately cynical Everyman who provides a running commentary on the rise and eventual demise of his country's first lady.
Like Antonio Banderas in the film, Rawle has tremendous charm and wit and ladies will fall for him by the coach load. His laid-back singing style can be underpowered but the constant twinkle in his eye more than makes up for this.
The first meeting between the army colonel with presidential ambitions and his future wife is close to comical. The deep-voiced Philip Quast who plays the ruthless and imposing Peron is at least a head and shoulders taller than his partner, even when she is tottering on the highest of heels.
However, egged on by a girl with the ambition and ruthlessness of Lady Macbeth, Juan is soon proudly listening to Lord Lloyd Webber's marvellous anthem "A New Argentina", while almost simultaneously putting wedding ring on his beautiful wife's finger and donning the mantle of President.
After the interval, the spectacle reaches an absolute peak as Miss Roger, following the ultimate makeover emerges as a stunningly lit beauty in silver ball gown with golden hair to sing the song that everybody has been waiting for, "Don't Cry For Me Argentina". She does so with a tremulous voice that adds real character and emotion to the song.
From there, after brief adulation and the start of what looks like a successful world tour, the dictatorship begins to crack despite the charismatic efforts of the ailing Evita who was to die, looking like a beautiful swan cut down in its prime, soon after her 33rd birthday.
The leading actors are well supported, particularly by Lorna Want, who demonstrates a lovely voice as she is ejected from Peron's bed and bemoans her misfortune singing "Another Suitcase in Another Hall".
Rob Ashford's choreography is used relatively sparingly but with its Latin influence and generally slow tempo creates the right atmosphere, complementing Oram's tremendous set and Paule Constable's highly effective lighting.
The music also has a special vibrancy and even an edginess that is not always the case with this composer, possibly thanks to some exciting string arrangements.
The real star of this inevitable hit though is Elena Roger. She transforms her character from a doll-like teenager into the charismatic beauty who wins the hearts of all of her countrymen, at least in this fairy-tale re-creation of Evita's life. Not only does Miss Roger have a tremendous voice but she dances wonderfully, acts well and if there is any weakness in her performance, it is a difficulty that any natural Spanish speaker is likely to have in enunciating perfectly in a second language.
The best advert for this seductive new revival will be the sold-out signs that are sure to adorn the Strand for some time to come.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher