Friday, 4 August 2017

Review Evita


Evita
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber

It Takes Two To Tango
http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/evita/phoenix-theatre/

We're about to shoot holes through our credibility by admitting that we've never seen Evita - not Elaine Paige, not Madonna, not Elena Roger. Yes, we remember the Julie Covington and David Essex recordings and videos and have caught bits of the movie, but that's about it.

But it was a nice surprise to find Evita, based on the life and death of Eva Perón, is a stonking musical with an ingenious rock and Latin-American flavoured Lloyd Webber score and a very clever, succinct book written by Tim Rice at a time when another Perón was making news,

This touring production from the Bill Kenwright stable, directed by Bob Tomason with Kenwright, feels uneven but still, we think, enjoyable. Part of the unevenness though lies in our own preconceptions, shared we are sure by many of our generation,  of which more later.

The 1978 stage musical follows the career of Eva Perón, a rags-to-riches true life story, illegitimate child to radio actress to wife of the President, only to be cut short  by an operatic-arc tragic death at a relatively young age.  Or as Lloyd-Webber, who was of course Jesus Christ Superstar's composer, pithily put it, before he was persuaded to do the musical, another death at 33.

Emma Hatton is a vivacious Evita of the Elaine-Paige-type but the show is definitely hampered in the first act by some bizarre microphone sound levels. 

Even so Oscar Balmaseda's minor celebrity crooner Magaldi, in this version of Evita's story, Eva's meal ticket to city bright light's rises above this with a pleasing clarity, along with Sarah O'Connor as Perón's former mistress with "Another Suitcase In Another Hall".

Happily the sound levels become practically perfect for the second act when the hard-edged  money making, the turning of Evita into an almost Marilyn Monroe superstar and then her sanctification really kick in.  

Hatton and Kevin Stephen-Jones's brylcreamed Perón in song thrillingly argue out political possiblities while the iconic songs, Che's earlier "Oh, What A Circus" and Eva's "Don't Cry For Me Argentia" have their impact.

Yet we felt somewhat frustrated by what seemed like a vigorous and beautifully put together musical but we couldn't quite fathom the reason why at the time.

During and immediately after the show we were totally unfair about Gian Marco Scharetti's Che. We criticised his faintly ridiculous broad-chested military stance. 

But we did wonder about the way he donned his military beret very like a member of the IRA paramillitary rather than a romantic view of Che Guevara and another moment when, on his knees, eyes raised, he seemed almost Christ-like. 

We should have trusted our instincts and taken this che (che in Spanish is a colloquial term, he's a guy, any guy) more at face value. 

Lloyd-Webber and Rice's original character was not Che Guevara but a far more generic Brechtian terrorist/freedom fighter. This also makes sense of the casting of Irishman Colm Wilkinson as the Che on the concept album. 

It also turns Evita into a musical about how myths are formed compared with the reality of powerbroking and about how social reform can go hand in hand with corruption and murder. It's also a musical, it seems to us, about men and women and who controls the narrative and storytelling.

So any version loyal to the creators' original conception has a major problem. The preconceptions of people like TLT. 

The 1978 director Hal Prince, it seems to us, turned Evita into a more cinematically ready musical of a certain type. It made sense again when we learned that, admittedly much later, Cabaret's Liza Minnelli did a screen test for Evita.

Maybe also there was a difference between the US's view of Che Guevara and Europe's which makes Prince's choice to turn the narrator into the icon legitimate in American terms but also made the character less universal. That said, the Alan Parker movie with Antonio Banderas did revert back to the original concept.  

It may be that the differing South American, the mainstream US, the Broadway and Hollywood and the British and European views on Che Guevara all come into play. And it all may have been complicated by differing colonial and then post Cold War views of Argentina.  

We thought we detected clever moments - the cathedral scenes had a tinge of The Sound Of Music, the slightest echo of West Side Story and Sondheim's Assassins in the Buenos Aires scenes and a nod towards My Fair Lady as the aristocratic women of upper class Argentina berate Evita behind her back before the musical becomes its own creature.

It's all very light touch and does work but it's also rather lush, full of bright colours and military uniforms and of course that iconic Che Guevara image. We had to investigate this and interrogate our own assumptions, but we'd love now to find out if a cut-down overtly Brechtian Evita would work. 

Our storytelling in this review, it seems to us, backs up our own conflicted reaction to this production. We may have made some assumptions, but we didn't know the steps of this Evita tango. We hope it is of service to those about to see the musical for the first time and wish we had known all this before we went. 

It's not only a great musical but, we think, a barometer of conflicting interests and the politics of showbusiness in 1978. For this 2017 Evita, it's an amber light. 

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