Still high flying and adored

Evita

Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

****

EVITA is one of the best of the Lloyd Webber/Rice collaborations. Its themes of power, fame, human triumph, tragedy and frailty are Shakespearean in ambition, wrapped in a popular accessible package which delights audiences wherever it goes.

Marti Pellow is the big name draw, but the success of the show depends upon the casting of Eva Peron, played here  magnificently by Madelena Alberto.

Touring productions often have to be frugal with chorus numbers to keep costs down. But not here. A large chorus provides a rich vocal sound and the numbers for some stunning dance scenes , with Buenos Aries a delight, a tribute to choreographer Bill Needham’s skills.

Marti Pellow as Ché with Madelena Alberto as Eva

An innovative set comprising rising and falling pillars and moving staircases and walkways provides variety and depth to the stage. The pivotal Don’t Cry for me Argentina is performed from a balcony created at the front of the stage with the audience becoming  Eva’s adoring crowd, a performance moving and perfect in every respect.

The narrative charts the vertiginous trajectory  of social-climber Eva Duarte, an ambitious actress who meets and marries Colonel Juan Peron, later president of Argentina. Her appeal to the people anticipates the Lady Diana phenomenom; her ruthless ambition is more recently associated with the likes of Madonna, who so memorably played her in the film adaptation in a case of art imitating life.

Narrator and antagonist Ché is omnipresent on stage to question the couple’s behaviour. During  the visually and musically compelling And the Money Keeps Rolling In  he stands as an irritant, questioning where the money is going, demanding to know the fate of opponents, and reflecting on whether the lives of ordinary people have really changed while Eva’s has been transformed. The show opens and closes with death scenes, an old, but effective dramatic device that affords pageantry and pathos to the show.

The two acts are quite different in tone. In the first half, narrative pace and crowd scenes dominate in Peron’s rise to power. In the second half, the narrative becomes more intimate, culminating in the powerful death scene. Madalena Alberto is superb as Evita. Her singing soars. Her acting commands and her stage presence dominates. Marti Pellow plays an understated  Ché as the narrator, singing admirably and content to leave the limelight to Alberto. The physically tall Mark Heenhan is an imposing Peron, and Sarah McNicholas as Mistress makes the most of her moment in the sun with a scintillating Another Suitcase In Another Hall. Conductor and arranger Matthew Loughran gilds many of the arrangements with Latin rhythms. Don't Cry For Me Argentina has rarely sounded so soulful and tender, ably complimented by Alberto’s Latin roots.

 Eva ages more than 15 years before our eyes, a feat enabled both by Alberto’s talent for transformation and the subtle work of the wardrobe and make up department. She is girly and carefree when first arriving in Buenos Aires, but once she has captured her man and scents power, she transforms into a driven, power-dressing, platinum blonde. I’d be Surprisingly Good For You, her duet with Peron, is a masterpiece of acting through song, as she seduces and captures her meal-ticket. You Must Love Me is heart wrenching, plaintiff, and vulnerable.

The  song was written for the 1996 film, incidentally and incorporated into the stage version in the 2006 London production. 

Co-Directors Bob Thomson and Bill Kenwright have excelled in this revival which is lavish, engaging and meticulously presented, and runs to 31-08-13.



Gary Longden

And in another hall . . .

****

POP star Marti Pellow proves to be a quality actor too in this dramatic award-winning musical by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The famous Wet Wet Wet lead singer plays revolutionary Ché, the narrator who stalks the stage in his black beret, army boots and combat gear, cleverly linking together the story of Argentina's political struggles and Eva Peron's remarkable rise to fame.

From the moment bearded Marti steps forward to sing Oh What a Circus the audience know they are set for a special night. And the rest of the cast also perform superbly in a musical full of drama, passion and a dash of fun here and there.

While Pellow is the big name in the show, Portuguese-born Madelena Alberto gives a memorable performance as Eva Peron, the attractive young girl who sleeps her way up the social ladder, becomes an actress and marries Juan Peron, convincing the army officer she can help his rise to power. And she succeeds.

She sings the emotional Don't Cry for Me Argentina beautifully, on the balcony alongside her husband, impressively played by Mark Heenehan, who fell under the spell of the determined woman.

Eva casually dismisses Peron's mistress, a role which gives Sarah McNicholas an opportunity to thrill the audience with one of the big numbers, Another Suitcase in Another Hall. And Nic Gibney, Eva's first lover, Agustin Magaldi, has some of the show's lighter moments with On This Night of a Thousand Stars.

Bill Deamer's slick choreography is particularly effective in the intricate military marching scenes. To 31-08-13

Paul Marston 

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