The names Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice automatically guarantee an audience, and a revival of one of their 21 meatier musical offerings, Evita, was always going to be interesting.
So many ALW musicals are full of catchy tunes that you can’t get out of your head, but Evita breaks this mould, with one show stopping tune, “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”, and a host of other interesting songs that are nowhere as near as memorable. Some musicals are songfests joined by weak narrative, but Evita is very much a book musical, where the success of the show relies on the strength of the drama, rather than the power of the music.
Based on the real life story of Argentina’s political leading lady of the 1940s, the musical follows the progress of young actress Eva Duarte, who uses her fame to mix with the political bigwigs of the time, attracting the attention of the military commander in charge of Argentina, Colonel Juan Peron, whose lover and wife Eva became, swapping her stage fame for political power.
Along the way Eva attracted adulation from the crowds for her efforts to improve the lot of the poor, albeit from her very comfortable position of wealth and power.
The entire show is built around Eva, and it has a superb leading lady to carry that task in Tina Arena, whose amazing vocal prowess is given full rein in Lloyd Webber’s score. Arena has a magnificent stage charisma and is simply always in charge in every way on that stage. (As it is a huge role, she will share performances with excellent rising star Jemma Rix, who many theatergoers will recall from her tour de force as Elphaba in Wicked.)
Returning from her international career to her hometown of Melbourne to play Eva was obviously a very emotionally satisfying experience for Arena on opening night, and the crowd simply adored her. Arena is a diva in the very best sense of that word. Partnering her as Peron is the magnificent Brazilian baritone Paulo Szot, a Tony award winner and a man who is obviously equally comfortable on a music theatre or opera stage. His towering performance and vocals as Peron will stay in your memory – an ideal pairing with Arena.
In the narrator role of Che is Australian performer Kurt Kansley, who is now based in London. He has some tricky music to sing, and he is constantly on stage, taking us through the story. His crisp diction was welcome, and he is a performer with natural charisma who carries the drama of the tale well.
In the smaller role of showy stage performer Magaldi, Michael Falzon brings panache and pleasing vocals, while in the cameo role of the Mistress, young Melburnian Alexis Van Maanen does a fine job of the wistful song “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” – a terrific professional solo debut by this young performer.
The ensemble works incredibly hard, and creates pure magic, while conductor Guy Simpson leads a splendid orchestra.
One of the most moving aspects of Evita is the clever use of actual archival footage from the period, turning Evita into a real-life show rather than a fictional representation.
I do have one reservation about Evita – it can be hard to keep up with the sequence of events, so do a little research on Argentina of the 1940s before you go, or at least read your program notes prior to the show in order not to get lost.
However, this is a fine production of an interesting musical.
Reviewer Julie Houghton attended EVITA in Melbourne Arts Centre’s State Theatre on 9 Dec. EVITA is playing through 17 February 2019.