Evita | Theatre Review

Evita | Theatre Review

Grand Opera House, Belfast • 01 August 2018

By Conor O’Neill

I purposely didn’t read a review before The Really Useful Group and Bill Kenwright take on Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s West End’s smash hit Evita. I did read a short history of her fascinating life. An illegitimate – due to Argentina’s law when her father left the family – the 15-year-old girl from, Junin, in the Buenos Aires province, fled the countryside’s poverty with a group of travelling musicians, though Rice and Webber have her convincing a dancer into fleeing rural poverty, to the bright light of the big city.

Working as a theatre actor, radio actor and sometimes model the show features very little of her life before she becomes acquainted with Juan Peron in 1944. At the start of two and thirty minute’s – including the 20-minute interval – Eva is not the glamour puss Argentina came to know and love. She’s far from the plane Jane girl-next-door, just somewhat humbly dressed and with dark hair. After bleaching her hair blonde for her first feature film, her wardrobe, mannerisms, and the star really begins to shine. After a brief prison sentence, and with the help of Eva and other union representatives, Peron soon becomes one of the main forces in Argentinian politics with Eva as an attentive scholar of his political idealism.

Married in relative secret in Eva’s hometown, she quickly becomes the first lady in 1946 when Peron becomes president And, I hear you mutter, enough of Argentinian history 101, what about the show? Well, this is arguably the most enthralling and evocative musical I’ve seen in the Grand Opera House, or anywhere else for that matter, since Jekyll & Hyde a couple of years ago in the GOH.

As you would expect with Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, the music and lyrics are outstanding. No two tunes are similar, except for Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, and 28 other musical wonders, everything from soaring solos with the voices of dozens, to piano-led lullabies with a hint of delicately placed and teasing strings leave the 1100 strong audience moved beyond words. 14 of the songs are duets, sung by trios or a mixture of the other 48 characters.

Production Musical Director, David Steadman along with musical director, Tim Whiting an David Cullen’s orchestrations should rightly have Webber grinning like a Chesire cat Very few scenes are spoken and the musicians in the pit certainly earned their crust in a relentless and breath-taking show. With such a huge cast, director Bob Tomson and choreographer Bill Deamer makes things flow with professional ease. Set changes, of which they are many, prove that along with a 48-strong cast, unnamed and out of sight in the pit, the musicianship is faultless, prove with good actors, well drilled, such expansive musical theatre is possible.

Rice and Lloyd Webber may have taken a few artistic liberties, Evita, who is excellently portrayed by actor Lucy O’Byrne, is obviously the focal point, yet Glenn Carter’s Che Guevara holds a pivotal role in the action, as does too Mike Sterling’s Juan Peron. Guevara, Argentinian legend and the poster-boy of left-wing revolutionaries the world over, is understated and with such understatement brings power to the role. As part narrator, Guevara tells how Evita sleeps her way to the top and into the heart of the Argentines. Juan Peron is again measured and focused on the good, in his eyes, for his country’s people. The clergy, aristocrats and a few of his upstart generals would love to see the back of him. The Spanish adore him and Evita while Italians liken Peron as their own former tyrant Mussolini.

Though Evita had a brief friendship with Fidel Castro, history fails to mention any meeting with Guevara. But hey, it’s a West End legend, never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

The closing scenes will break your heart as Evita, Peron and the company lament on the turn of, both Peron’s political career and the sudden illness of the leading lady.

As I’ve nothing to compare this performance too, I haven’t even see the 1996  Madonna and Antonio Banderas’ film, it’s impossible to relate this to other productions. All I know is what I saw and the audience’s collective adoration. No wonder it won the Lawrence Olivier Award shortly after its WestEnd debut in 1978 followed the previous year by picking up a Tony, the first British musical to ever win Best Musical on Broadway.

Ticket sales are going well, though one of the press-officers told me there are some tickets to be had. To book yours call the box office on 02890 241919 or visit www.goh.co.uk

Evita runs until Saturday 11 August.

You will not be disappointed.

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