Review: Evita @ New Theatre
Behind every great man is a great woman.
This is most evident in the story of Eva PerÃ³n, even if there is much ambiguity.
In perhaps their best work, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice have created a musical of much passion, politics and great themes on popularity. Everyone loves a First Lady, and Eva was the most glamorous and decadent of them all. However, the ways and means of her and her husband, Juan PerÃ³n, and their handling of state affairs in Argentina, are still notorious. It is still hard to know what to think of her as a person. Indeed, she did a lot of good for the poor of her country, got women the vote (as late as 1947) and became the voice of Argentina across the globe. She had much more pulling power than her husband but, either way, he was in charge.
On paper, this can sound like a dull musical. I did think this would bore me, as I found the film version with Madonna a little bloated. Had there not been a show about her, would we even know who this Evita was? This is so much more than a history lesson; it is a rather resounding musical with scope and pathos. The songs are stellar: Don't Cry For Me, Argentina; On This Night Of A Thousand Stars; ''High Flying, Adored''; Oh, What A Circus; and heaps more. It is hard to have a favourite, but Another Suitcase in Another Hall, sung by PerÃ³n's departing Mistress, is up there (in the film version, Madonna sings this). For her brief time, Sarah McNicholas gave us insight and hope in this song, as we never see her character again.
The songs are all perfect accompaniments to what's on stage. We get tangos and latino scores, church music, jazz, and, even at times, opera-like intensity. It's powerful theatre, especially when Eva is dying in hospital (tragically at the age of thirty-three). The dancing, which featured more in the first half, had the precision and resplendence you would expect from a West End show. Even with one of the girls having a minor slip up (it's not like I can dance in high heels... yet), it was a joy to see the company spread all over the stage and doing what they had trained for their whole lives.
As for the cast, what can be said other than great kudos? Wet Wet Wet's Marti Pellow as Che was imposing, sizzling and impeccably handsome. It goes without saying that this is Che as in Che Guevara, who you are likely to have seen on so many t-shirts and posters. He is our narrator, scorning and berating Eva for all that she is falling into. We witness her grow from peasant, to actress, to world politician, then witness her eventual downfall, all complimented by Che, the rebel who appears all too happy to let you know of her end. Her grave has become a mini Fort Knox since her corpse went missing for almost 20 years.
Mark Heenehan played Juan PerÃ³n with conviction. He was the stern, slightly crafty dictator that we would expect. As for Evita herself, I feel that the evergreen Madalena Alberto was born for this role. Everything was just right: her hair, her face and how the costumes looked on her. This is one of the most demanding female roles in all of musical theatre but Alberto shone, with the voice, the conviction and the diva-esque qualities required. Whether being called a 'whore' or a 'saint' (PerÃ³n tried to have her canonised after her death), she puts up with it all and carries on with what has to be done. Perhaps some people just don't like a pretty woman who does a lot of good.
My mother adores Evita (I grew up on the film soundtrack) and sadly could not make this due to a flat tyre. My plus-one, a good friend of mine, joined me for this, which was his first ever live musical. We both agreed that although we thought beforehand it might be a snooze festival, it turned out to be quite the opposite.
Rousing and still relevant.
* *Punches fist in the air*
Evita is playing all week at the New Theatre in Cardiff and continues on tour, thereafter.
Photo Credit: Promotional Photo