★★★ | Evita

The glamour, passion and politics 1940’s Argentina are brought to life in this revival of one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most successful musicals which is back on national tour.

In 1934, a young and naive country girl, Eva Duarte, falls for a singer and pressures him into taking her to Argentina. Filled with her ambitions to be a singer and actress, she quickly realises the harsh reality of life in the city when he leaves her. Sleeping her way up the ladder, from secretary to model and from radio star to actress, she attends a charity function held by Juan Peron, an aspiring politician with his sights on clawing his way to the presidential seat. They come together, both in love and to further their careers, much to the disapproval of a number of Peron’s political allies. But whilst Evita charms the nation, the corrupt nature of their reign starts to show, her greed and power hungry desires come to the forefront and her body starts to become increasingly frail as she begins to succumb to illness.

There are a number of reasons to recommend this production. Starting with the music, the show is performed as a sing through musical, and is absolutely crammed with classic songs, including “Another Suitcase, Another Hall”, “You Must Love Me”, “”Oh, What a Circus” and the show stopping, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”. The orchestra played beautifully together and the balance of the volume between the music and the vocals was perfect, allowing for both the music and the lyrics to be appreciated. It was also good to be reminded of how well written, enjoyable and powerful the music and songs are when performed live.

The ensemble cast were incredibly talented and all performed strongly, sounding superb when singing both together and undertaking their solo parts. Mark Heenehan was well cast as Juan Peron, demonstrating his commanding voice and compelling stage presence.Sarah McNicholas gave a heart wrenching performance of “Another Suitcase, Another Hall” and Nic Gibey was ideal as the sleazy crooner Magaldi. However, the standout performance of the evening was by ensemble member Joel Elferink, who managed to consistently out-sing and out-act most of the cast in his numerous parts.

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The play itself was more political in its storyline than the well-known film version and the play moved along at a swift pace, meaning the near two hour running time flew by. There were some well put together set pieces, in particular, “Buenos Aires”, “Peron’s Latest Flame” and “A New Argentina”, which were well choreographed and performed. The set was versatile and well utilised, although did seem cluttered at times, the use of the lighting was atmospheric and effective and the costumes were beautifully put together.

With so much to recommend it, it is a shame that the two leads were the weak link in both the production and the cast. Marti Pellow was better than expected as Che, but his, performance appeared both forced and strained at times, in contrast to the much more natural performances of the other cast members. Madalena Alberto played the title role with some enthusiasm and she had a good voice, but she lacked the charisma and presence of the character that she was playing, making her performance slightly less believable. Her delivery of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” and “You Must Love Me” were the stand out moments of her performance. Their performances did steadily improve over the course of the show and eventually won me over, but it is a shame when the “stars” of a musical are eclipsed by the rest of the cast for the majority of the show.

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Overall, the show was an enjoyable evening and was a well put together production which turned out to be better than anticipated. The music continues to stand up today and despite the show being around 35 years old, this production still sounded fresh and contemporary and was generally well performed by a talented cast, despite what could be argued as a slightly miscast pair of leads.

Evita is currently playing at the Sheffield Lyceum Theatre until the 13th July 2013 before continuing its national tour.

About the author: Paul Szabo
In between visits to the theatre, watching films, photography, walking, scuba diving and singing (badly); Paul writes for TheGayUK.