Madalena high flying and adored

picture of Marti Pellow as Che and Madalena Alberto as Eva Perón

Marti Pellow as Che and Madalena Alberto as Eva Perón

 Evita

Malvern Theatres

*****

IN musical theatre it is hard to top the superb team of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, but add in Bill Kenwright as director/producer plus the incredibly talented Madalena Alberto as leading lady and you are presented with magic.

Evita was the fourth musical from Rice and Lloyd Webber, following on from The Likes of Us, and the hugely successful Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and Jesus Christ Superstar.

Written almost 40 years ago, Evita tells the story of Eva Duarte and her journey from fatherless poverty to a career in radio and socially upwards through a series of romances until she enchants and marries Colonel Juan Perón, one of Argentina’s most powerful men. Eva worked hard to win support for her husband, paving his way to becoming president in 1946.

Headstrong and ambitious, Eva, fondly known as Evita, was also plagued by ill health, which put an end to her dream of becoming vice-president.

Her speeches and visits to ‘the common people’ made her a much loved figure, and although this praise was far from universal, she was viewed by many almost as a saint. The role she created for herself, her glamour and her European tour to spread a message of peace coupled with her obvious fragility make comparisons between Eva Perón and Princess Diana striking.

And then of course there is Eva’s cruel death from cancer at the age of just thirty three. Evita, alongside her husband, brought great changes for ‘her people’, especially the working classes, and worked hard to secure women’s right to vote, granted in 1947. However, their rule was seen by many as a form of dictatorship by stealth, and some of the country’s wealth seemed to disappear into the Peróns’ own (Swiss) coffers.

It is a huge role, which Alberto inhabits fantastically. The actress acknowledges that Evita is one of the most demanding female roles in musical theatre due largely to the almost two hours on stage and the physicality of the role.

On stage, Portuguese Alberto is glamorous (she has eighteen costume changes), sings with great emotion and truly leads the audience to love Evita as she was loved by her people, faults and all. In one of her final scenes she seems not only to age, but to grow weaker and slighter in front of our eyes as she nears death.

Theatre allows Alberto to demonstrate all she is capable of, which other media such as film would not demand. Her rendition of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina at the start of Act Two was incredibly moving, as she looks out to the audience as her people from the balcony of picture of Mark Heenehan as Juan Perón with EvaThe Casa Rosada in a sparkling white replica Christian Dior sequinned dress and diamonds.

Such a well known song, it is difficult to make it sound fresh, sincere and un-clichéd, but Alberto does far more than this, somehow making us feel that she is giving her message to each one of us. She strangely had us all rooting for her and Perón’s success and for a bright future for Argentina. You can imagine my distress when she died.

Mark Heenehan as Juan Perón with Eva

Mark Heenehan did a great job as Perón, with a fine voice and acting skills, and graciously acknowledging that his role, although vital, was a supporting one to Alberto’s, as Perón’s was to Evita’s. And so we come to Marti Pellow. Former Wet Wet Wet frontman Pellow is now a solo artist and actor, and his continued popularity would seem to make the decision to cast him as the story’s narrator, Che, a wise one.

However, his singing was my only niggle with this production. Professional singer or not, in my opinion his voice was just not strong enough, and he often seemed to struggle to keep up with the music. Alberto’s powerful voice only served to highlight Pellow’s weaknesses, and it seemed a shame that the most important character in this production after Evita was picked more for who he was than on merit and his ability to sing with depth, clarity and emotion.

Special mentions must though go to Sarah McNicholas as Perón’s unceremoniously deposed mistress for her sweetly sad performance of Another Suitcase in Another Hall and to the locally recruited children, one of whom impressively sang solo in Santa Evita.

Other plus points were the live orchestra squeezed into the pit, the grand set design, lighting, costumes and choreography which together made the show a wonderful spectacle. Rice and Lloyd Webber perhaps make less obvious use of comedy in Evita than they do in other work but it is still there throughout.

Mood changes such as the one between the amusing Goodnight and Thank You which sees Evita waving goodbye to a string of lovers, and the sinister military-sounding song The Art of The Possible, show how expert Rice and Lloyd Webber are at manipulating an audience’s emotions and plausibly using contrasting extremes which ought not to work. Similarly, it is difficult to imagine how the spirit of the recently deceased Eva Perón could not only appear on stage but also sing with other cast members, without appearing utterly ridiculous and saccharine, but Rice and Lloyd Webber pull this off with gusto.

A marvellous production, the story of Evita is fascinating, and the disappearance of her body for years after her death only adds to her air of divinity amongst her admirers. Admirers of Marti Pellow were out in force, and fans in the front row were shocked at my suggestion that Pellow’s acting and vocal skills were anything less than perfect. ‘But he’s beautiful,’ I was told. I suspect their review might read slightly differently from mine.

At the end of the show there was a well deserved cheer for the girl who sang solo, a huge cheer for Pellow (although not from me) and a standing ovation for the absolute star of the show Madelena Alberto. Any marks for this show that I may have deducted for Pellow’s flaws, Alberto earned back easily and ought to be billed above him in the promotional material, regardless of who may have achieved some chart success in the 1980s.

This production of Evita continues to tour Britain into the summer so catch it when you can. To 10-5-14

Amy Rainbow

06-05-14 

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