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The Kings Theatre, Glasgow, September 10, 2008
Having been a fan of the film for over a decade now, I decided to bite the bullet and see the stage version. I'm not overly fond of Andrew Lloyd Webber because I think much of his work is overblown and ostentatious. However, both Phantom and Evita sidestep the conventions of his material and actually make for rather enjoyable rock opera's.
The story of Eva Duarte is a famous one, albeit slightly contrived in the form of this musical. She was a two bit actress in the 40's who eventually married famous politician Juan Peron. She scratched her way to fame after arriving in the overcrowded Beunos Aires, making a name for herself on the radio. Once she married Juan Peron, they campaigned together for him to become President of Argentina, although the poor of Argentina seemed to embrace her more. It was she who reportedly organised the rallies that would free Peron after he was arrested amid fears that he would become more popular than the current President.
Eva became even more famous after she went on the road to tour Europe on Peron's behalf. Known as the "Rainbow Tour", it was hugely successful in building bridges between Argentina and Europe, but it was Eva's charity work that would be her biggest attribute to the cause. She fought feminist causes and highlighted the plight of suffering women.
In 1951, Eva decided to run for vice-president so that she could stand at her husband's side, but found support more among the working classes and the unions, which then resulted in that famous balcony speech that is most synonymous with Eva Peron. Due to declining health though, Eva had no alternative but to withdraw her candidacy, and she soon discovered that she had cervical cancer. She received treatment from prestigious Doctor George T Pack, but sadly died in July 1952 aged 33. Her body apparently disappeared for 16 years, but was returned to its rightful place in 1971.
The mourning of Argentina resulted in Eva becoming "Evita: Spirital Leader Of The National".
"Evita" the musical was penned by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice, based upon Mary Main's biography of the woman. Whilst its sharp in lyrics and in tone, it does seem to play havoc with some of the facts. Many of the facts are changed in order to suit the songs, which would lead you to believe that Eva slept her way to the top. No such documentation exists that would back that up. It also casts other questions over Evita's life such as the claims that she was illegitimate and that she found her way to Buenos Aires on the back of a struggling singer known as Migaldi.
Aside from the obvious factual discrepencies though, Evita works phenomenally well in explaining Eva's rise to fame and subsequently her death. Much of it is told through the eyes of a narrator known as Che, apparently Eva's best critic. He cynically questions her motives throughout the show, best summed up in the final act song "Waltz for Eva and Che" when the two of them finally come together for a stand off.
Highlights include the balcony speach in the form of the excellent "Dont Cry For Me Argentina" and "Another Suitcase in Another Hall" which is returned to its rightful singer here (Madonna insisted on performing this in the film despite it not being originally written for the character Eva). There are also superb dance sequences, most notably the flamenco flavoured "Buenos Aires" early on in the show.
This production of Evita even goes so far as to allow the film to influence it. "You Must Love Me" wasn't in the original production of Evita either, but was written for the film as a play over as Evita reaches her fate. That has been included in this production.
Louise Deerman takes on the role of Evita, and charts her growth brilliantly. She's initially a weak needy character who appears to grow on stage, and eventually becomes the manipulative powerful woman that Che presents her as. Her voice is astoundingly good, although at times her poise is a little awkward. She handles the choreography well, so therefore its only her acting skills that need a little work.
Seamus Cullen is Che, the narrator. He is the highlight, with his gravelly voice handling his material brilliantly. He exudes the anger and frustration of his working class character excellently. The two are supported by Mark Heenehan who is suitably stuffy as Juan Peron. Together, all three of them master the soundtrack and the performances, and present the audience with a professional engaging and poignant re-enactment of Eva Peron's life.
Probably the biggest issue with this particular production is the choice of venue. The Kings Theatre is one of Glasgow's most famous entertainment venue's, but the stage is designed for amateur and smaller productions. Evita is a big production, and it is noticeably limited by the size of the stage. However, even that cant hinder the enthusiasm of the leads, the supporting cast and a rather impressively faithful orchestra.
This is one of the very few musical's I have endured on stage that hasn't had me yawning into the second half, despite mirroring the film (which I have viewed numerous times) act for act.