Almost sixty-five years after Eva Peron’s death and thirty-nine years after Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s final and in my view greatest collaboration debuted at the Prince Edward Theatre, Evita is back in the West End at the Phoenix Theatre for a limited season.
Directed by Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright’Evita has just concluded a successful UK tour. It could be said that Evita was at the forefront of the British invasion of musicals that would give Broadway a run for their money with hits like Cats, Les Miserables and The Phantom Of The Opera.
With a slick set by Matthew Wright and staging that focuses much of the action front and centre, this production ensures that no element of the narrative is missed. Bill Deamer’s cast manouevre and dance to the pulsating rythmns and majesty of Lloyd Webber’s score, and it still holds up. The cynicism applied to the show’s subject, Tim Rice’s smart, observational lyrics and the show’s structure continue to make it a compelling two hours in the theatre.
Leading this production in the title role is Emma Hatton. It’s a phenomenal performance. This is a modern day Cinderella story, only she is on a steam train full of momentum hurtling towards the ball. It’s perhaps the speed of that rise that makes her fall so incredibly powerful. To go from the dynamic Beunos Aires to the poignant Lament and make it believeable to an audience is no mean feat, but Hatton makes every post a winner with an exciting performance of one of the greatest modern stage musical roles for women.
Gian Marco Schiaretti makes his West End debut in the role of Che. Constantly providing external comment, Schiaretti’s incredible vocal makes him a welcome addition to this production. His Che is a lot more physical than some of his predecessors, but his commanding vocal gives the interactions between Che and Eva some magical moments and in numbers like And The Money Kept Rolling In really lifts the dynamic of the number.
As Juan Peron, Kevin Stephen-Jones perfectly inhabits the military man driven to dizzying heights by his fearless wife. Statesman like, political but always seeming to care it’s a solid performance and you do stop to wonder whether it was Eva herself or her political capital that was the centre of his concern.
Bill Kenwright, Bob Tomson and the team have delivered a solid revival. My one qualm is that Evita’s once magnificent large orchestra is no more with only nine musicians remaining. There is clearly some synthetic trickery afoot here and for a large part of the score the sheer volume that can be achieved with modern ampification allows you to overwhelm the audience with the largese of Lloyd Webber’s incredible score, but where it falls apart are in come of the quieter scenes were it sounds a bit thin. Evita has been a musical that has inhabited the soundtrack of my life for a long time and that small adjustment to the pit numbers would have greatly improved the show for me.
Still, how many other major British musicals have been seen in the West End three times since their debut in recent times. I daresay it will be back on many more occassions but it comes at a great moment when so many of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s other shows are popping up all over the place.
We must always though remember to thank Tim, whose idea the show was in the first place.