Evita – Review – Hull New Theatre
By Rachel Howard, November 2018
Being a fan of musical theatre, it’s strange that up until now, Evita has passed me by. I haven’t even seen the 1996 movie adaptation starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas (although some may say that’s more a blessing than a curse…)
My knowledge of the storyline didn’t go much beyond Eva Perón, Argentina and the musical’s most famous song, ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’.
So I was excited to take my seat at Hull New Theatre for the opening night of the touring musical’s latest run. Originally created by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber as a rock opera concept album, Evita the musical made its West End debut in 1978, followed by Broadway the following year. Over the following 40 years, it has become one of the most successful musicals of all time, being staged all over the world alongside many touring productions.
Evita follows the story of Eva Duarte, a young Argentinian woman who leaves her small village for the bright lights of Buenos Aires in search of fame and fortune. Having worked her way up the social ladder – befriending many of Buenos Aires’ men along the way – she is introduced to Colonel Juan Domingo Perón, a military man who has his eye set firmly on the upper echelons of Argentina’s political world. Soon after they are married, Juan Perón is elected president and over the course of the following six years, Eva becomes the voice of the people, taking on roles within the trade unions, championing women’s suffrage and creating the nation’s first large-scale female political party – The Female Peronist Party. In 1952, having battled cervical cancer, she died at the age of 33. She had just been made Spiritual Leader of the Nation by the country’s Congress. Although not a head of state, she was given a state funeral and the country was plunged into an extended period of mourning.
It’s a heavy, fact-based tale that many would think impossible to turn into an entertaining musical, but this is where Rice and Lloyd Webber excel; not to mention Bill Kenwright, the director/producer of the touring production. Rice invented the character of Che to narrate the story (there are mixed opinions as to whether or not he is based on Che Guevara), and it is this role that brings the audience humour, explanation and a little light-hearted relief. In this production, Che is played by Glenn Carter who, for me, is the star of the show. His interaction with the audience, through gestures as simple as a wink and a wry smile, is superb, and alongside a commanding voice, his stage presence is fantastic.
Lucy O’Byrne takes on the epic role of Eva. I can only imagine the pressure that comes with playing a role such as this, however O’Byrne takes it all in her stride. I do feel, at times, the voice was a little strained and the enunciation was a bit lost, but during the showpiece number, ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’, she really comes into her own. She captures the vulnerability of Eva perfectly, and having subsequently watched a recording of the original Eva Perón, Elaine Paige, performing the same song, I can confidently say Lucy O’Byrne smashed it.
Mike Sterling plays the role of Juan Perón, delivering an assured and confident performance, particularly in the scenes around Eva’s death. It was clear to see their love was not a fairytale, created for the media in order to further one another’s political aspirations. It was one of true romance and shared admiration, making her untimely death especially moving to watch.
The fantastic cast (boosted by a large number of children, including one outstanding solo performance) are supported by a superb live orchestra, directed by David Steadman. Special mention should also be given to the set-design team, who have produced one of the best sets in a touring production I have ever seen. The opening scene, flashing forward to Eva’s funeral, is haunting, large pillars lit with candlelight give a sombre yet ethereal feel; and, later in the show, as Eva prepares to sing ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’, the balcony moves forward, placing her on a pedestal almost over the front row of the audience, as if we are the people of Argentina, her people, looking up to her as she sings “… But all you have to do, is look at me to know, that every word is true”.
“One of the greatest pieces of musical theatre”
Eva Perón had, and continues to have, a mixed response from the world. She certainly isn’t cast in a golden light throughout all of this musical, in fact, Tim Rice was known to praise a biography written by Mary Main that was highly critical of Perón. Despite this, there is no doubt as to her significance to Argentinian politics and her rightful place in the history books. The fact that the musical of her life is still selling out more than 60 years after her death is testament not only to that, but also to the tour de force that is the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber partnership.
This really is one of the greatest pieces of musical theatre ever written, and I urge anyone who hasn’t already seen it (and even if you have!) to get themselves to this latest touring production. It’s a smash hit.
images: Pamela Raith