Evita The Musical is like the woman it spotlights. The musical starts confidently and gradually becomes more spectacular and powerful as did Eva Perón, Argentina’s First Lady from 1946 until 1952.
This 40th anniversary production from Opera Australia, John Frost and David Ian Productions, is based on the original 1978 West End production, directed by Hal Prince. As such it doesn’t necessarily have the `bells and whistles’ of more recent stage musicals.
What it does have is a fantastic cast which expertly executes numerous beautiful and apt songs and wonderfully choreographed dance numbers.
Leading the way is Tina Arena as Eva Perón. The role allows Arena to brilliantly showcase both her acting and vocal skills as she morphs from a poor teenager living in rural Argentina to the country’s most powerful leader and then to a dying woman desperate to hold onto power.
Arena’s presentations of Don’t Cry for Me Argentina at the height of Eva’s power and then on her death bed perfectly illustrate her great talent.
She also expertly portrays a woman who at times seems concerned for Argentina’s poor but who becomes extremely wealthy and is manipulative and ruthless.
Equally as impressive is London-based Australian Kurt Kansley who plays Che, a revolutionary who continually questions Eva’s motives and legacy. He also helps to set the scenes and tell Eva’s story including her many sexual relationships before she meets soon-to-be president, Colonel Juan Perón.
Brazilian baritone and opera star Paulo Szot shines as Perón. He portrays Perón as a confident man with questionable morals who is just as ambitious as Eva.
The leads are well supported by Alexis van Maanen as Peron’s mistress, who Eva quickly dismisses. While only playing a small role, Van Maanen’s presentation of the iconic, Another Suitcase in Another Hall, is memorable. Michael Falzon also gives a strong performance as the tango-singer whom Eva uses to escape to Buenos Aires from her small rural town. Eva soon rejects the tango singer for more influential men.
The work of the children’s choir and the ensemble who sing and dance with great skill and enthusiasm are other show highlights. With dance numbers ranging from Latin-inspired songs to army marches, there are many challenges, however, the ensemble exceeds expectations. Their vocal work was, for me personally, one of the greatest joys of this production.
For my colleague it was Arena’s performance, especially in the second half of the production.
As a result of the show both of us were keen to learn more about the Peróns and the Argentina of their time. A large mobile overhead screen with authentic footage, provided the backdrop to the production and gave us some idea of the protagonists’ appearance and various events at the time. This also sparked our curiosity in knowing how close the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber created production was to the truth. Subsequent research suggests the musical captures history’s perception of Eva Perón. To some she was a saint, to others the devil!
Evita the Musical is playing at Arts Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre until March 3. Visit the Evita website to book tickets and to check artists performing (Tina Arena is alternating with the Jemma Rix).
*Photo credit: Jeff Busby.
Jenny Burns attended the opening night of Evita the Musical as a guest of the producers.
Visit travelswithjb.com.au-live shows for more show reviews.
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