Thursday, August 02, 2018

Evita – quality performances in a production which allows the music to take centre stage (Grand Opera House until 11 August)

Evita has rolled into town. It’s the story of a young woman, Eva Duarte, a social climber who worked her way up through Argentinian society, stepping on the shoulders of every social class until she climbed to the very top and partnered up with Juan Perón, the military leader she would guide to become the country’s president. It’s also arguably the best musical from the renowned partnership between Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

In this production, Eva comes across as a subtle prima donna, rarely over the top. Lucy O’Byrne’s voice is well-suited to the title role and the iconic balcony song Don’t Cry For Me Argentina which is brought right to the front of the stage. Ultimately Eva’s ambition is found to be greater than her health and O’Byrne saves her best performances for the final half hour, injecting a convincing frailty into her movement and voice.

Directors Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright don’t encourage Juan Perón to be madly enamoured with his pushy beau. The arc on which the character shifts from being led by Eva at the beginning to being a step ahead of the failing thirty-something towards the end is well acted. Mike Sterling is faultless with a commanding presence on stage and beautiful baritone voice.

Glenn Carter plays common man Che who commentates on proceedings. He has a solid voice, but eschews the sarcasm that would have brought a much-needed glint to Che’s voice.

Christina Hoey impresses with her adolescent Mistress rendition of Another Suitcase In Another Hall. The company’s rendition of Requiem for Evita embraces the set’s religious imagery and is rewarded with an even better song in the second half. Santa Evita benefits from a great performance by an unnamed child from the local Stagecoach Theatre Arts School and contains rich harmony singing that sent shivers down my back.

While Evita’s strength as a show is its catalogue of big songs that you can hum as you leave the performance, some of the best moments of the current touring production are softer scenes accompanied by Brian Streeter’s guitar. While there are moments in the first half when the music drowns out solo voices – unfortunate, because the intricacy and richness of the story is told through the elaborate lyrics – the balance improves in the second half.

While there’s certainly a poverty-to-riches thread within the narrative, Tim Rice’s book and lyrics also tell the story of political change in 1940s Argentina. There is much in the story that resonates in 2018. The people’s first lady sings that “we will take these riches from the Oligarchs … for all of you” as she accumulates wealth in the name of social change while noting that “accountants only slow things down, figures get in the way”. Her tour of Europe is commented upon: “your wife's a phenomenal asset, your trump card!”
“Who the hell does the King of England think he is?
Tea at some tinpot castle of his!
What kind of invitation is that?
Argentina's first lady deserves Buckingham Palace
If England can do without me
Then Argentina can do without England”

Food for thought for world leaders, royalty and the public who can be so easily hoodwinked into thinking that those who rise to the top will keep their promises.

I’ve a strong childhood memory of attending a touring performance of Evita in the Grand Opera House during the late 1980s. Bill Kenwright’s revival of the musical is surprisingly straight and risk-free with its direction, shying away from pulling too many heart-strings, and it allows the music to take centre stage.

A number of the lead roles have recently been refreshed and the quality of singing and blending across the company is strong although there’s room for a greater Latin feel to the music. While much of the humour and cheeky playfulness that can be found in other more playful productions is absent, the cast, musicians and Matthew Wright’s flexible staircase set tell the story of Evita in a very satisfying manner.

Well worth catching Evita during its two-week run in the Grand Opera House which finishes on Saturday 11 August.

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