An incredible true story, fantastic performances and powerful music ensure a great night.
The conclusion of the first act of Evita prompted the gentleman behind me to (loudly) exclaim “It’s like Brexit the musical! The voice of the people will not be silenced!” The comment caught me off guard, although on reflection a blonde figure leading the people to economic disaster may be an accurate comparison. I would say current climate aside, however, it is politics that is at the heart of Evita. It’s the examination of a complex, morally ambiguous figure that makes the 1978 musical feel current.
Evita tells the story of Eva Perón, the wife of Argentine dictator Juan Perón, and her rise to power from illegitimate child to the First Lady and Spiritual Leader of Argentina. Opening with her dramatic state funeral, the musical asks if she deserving of such adoration and spectacle. With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, the original production won the Olivier for Best Musical and a year later became the first British musical to achieve the Tony Award for the same prize. The classic musical now returns to Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, as part of its UK tour.
Emma Hatton revels in the role of Eva, using her Elphaba pipes to chill-inducing effect. Hatton is just as convincing as the ambitious fifteen year old dancing freely in the crowd favorite ‘Buenos Aires’, as she is Machiavellian revelling in her newly attained power. Yet neither feels like a caricature as real complexity is brought to the role. During her performance of ‘Don’t cry for me Argentina’, the audience collectively held its breath. The ice cream I had just bought in the interval slowly liquefied as we sat motionless. Surely the most memorable moment of the evening, not an audience member was without a goosebump.
Great support is given by Gian Marco is the role of Che. His presence is made immediately clear as he patrols the stage staring down the audience. His voice is good, but is greatest when the music enters a more rock-opera style. Kevin Stephen-Jones embodies the character of Perón perfectly, allowing Eva to take centre stage. While Oscar Balmasda’s rendition of ‘On this night of a thousand stars’ is note perfect. The ensemble successfully portrays pretty much the entire nation of Argentina. Using choreography well in conveying the energy of Buenos Aires and the snobby attitude of the upper class women.
The show covers a fascinating yet complicated period of Argentinian history, and at times, a little more clarity is needed. This gap ensures you’ll spend three hours on Wikipedia after the show till you feel you’re an expert on the 1930 Argentine coup d’état. The sound also felt slightly off at times as on occasion I found myself straining to hear the lyrics, while some attempts at humour missed the mark and felt quite out of place.
A special mention must be given to lighting designer Mark Howett, whose use of light regularly stole the show. From the show’s opening in the cinema, lighting is used to incredible effect. The stunning costumes, particularly the white gown that opens Act 2, to justify her labeling as a saint. The set also achieves great scope and flexibility convincingly portraying the range of locations required.
In ‘Buenos Aires’, a young Eva promises: “We’ll put on a show”. This is certainly achieved – it is epic storytelling that every musical theatre fan will enjoy. An ambitious musical full of fantastic performances that left both a lever and remainer impressed? Not a mean feat.
Evita plays in Mayflower Theatre until the 21st of January.