CurtainUp
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A CurtainUp London Review
Evita

"Now Eva Peron had every disadvantage
You need if you're gonna succeed
No money, no cash
No father, no bright lights."

— Che
Evita
Samantha Pauly as Eva and Trent Saunders as Che
(Photo: Marc Brenner)
I have history with Evita. I bought the concept album in 1976 on vinyl on the strength of Julie Covington's performance in Rock Follies. In 1978 I saw the show only the second Lloyd Webber ever, the first having been a 40 minute production of Joseph in a covent school in Stamford Hill. The show starred Elaine Paige as Evita, David Essex as Che and Joss Ackland as Peron. Later it became my favourite Lloyd Webber show for its tunes and lyrics but not for its glorification of Peron's arriviste wife and the Peronist's neo-Fascist regime. Jamie Lloyd has the answer in a new version of the show with the diamonds and furs and ball gowns replaced as spectacle with fabulous, exciting choreography from Fabian Aloise. Gone too are the extravagant sets with just simple steps from Soutra Gilmour the width of the Open Air's splendid stage and imaginatively used.

The first thing I was blown away by in this Evita is the clarity of singing and diction from Trent Saunders as Che. Wearing an ironic Che Guevara tee shirt he commands and controls the narrative and looks the part with his wild hair and bearded good looks. The other two principals also have Broadway careers. Samantha Pauly most recently sang Catherine Howard in Six in Chicago so we know she can do sexy and sassy but here she starts as a poor girl in a petticoat and doesn't really get away from underwear although it gets more glamorous in the manner of 1940s Hollywood stitched satin bras and knickers. Although Jamie Lloyd's interpretation is mostly about the complex relationship between Eva and Che and this inevitably means playing down Peron, Ektor Rivera as Juan Peron sings well but is almost incidental to Eva's career. He is a trophy husband!

As her death is announced, the young Eva crawls slowly up the steps of the set and "Requiem" is accompanied by dancers carrying grey smoking torches and pyrotechnics explode with grey ash coloured tissue confetti as though it is raining grey smoke. The ensemble cast appear in black coats for the outpouring of grief, their arms clutching upwards, their heads bowed. Shots of steam burst from the sides of the stage and the women sing "Homage to Evita".

Enter Che with "What a Circus" with its specific criticisms of Evita and we briefly hear Miss Pauly sing a verse of "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" and her voice is beautiful. Adam Pearce, whom I have seen before in Evita, plays Agustin Magaldi, the tango singer used in this musical to get Eva to Buenos Aires. Adam Pearce has a leading man voice but not the matching physique. Still we are here to listen to him singing these infectious Latin American rhythms with dancers dancing the salsa and the tango.

I loved the way Eva's ascent is danced in "Goodnight and Thank You" when she walks over three of her male conquests who have given her a leg up, for one to be despatched, only for another man to join the two remaining crouched figures in sequence. We lose count. Just as well that she is not wearing stilettos! Che joins in, complicit at this point.

The opposition of the army is less the assembly of uniforms in "The Art Of The Possible" as a lone female dancer (uncredited) in military uniform struts in military fashion. "I'd Be Surprisingly Good For You" is like a ballet with two dancers coupled in the tango; he's powerfully built and she is submissive and sexual while Peron and Evita meet onstage. Frances Mayli McCann sings the pretty mistress song "Another Suitcase, Another Hall" as Eva takes over as Peron's mistress. "Peron's Latest Flame" meets with aristocratic disapproval, here Tim Rice's inimitable bitchy lyrics make us smile,
"No we wouldn't mind seeing her at Harrod's
But behind the jewelry counter, not in front", and
"And she's an actress, the last straw
Her only good parts are between her thighs
She should stare at the ceiling, not reach for the skies."

Act One closes with the celebratory "A New Argentina" and more pyrotechnics in the blue and white colours of the Argentinian flag. Act Two opens with Evita merchandise, balloons and T shirts before her life story in the powerful hit song from the show, "Don't Cry For Me Argentina".

The minimal costumes for the show make the "Rainbow High" sequence of stylist design try-ons limited, leaving the witty words,
"I came from the people, they need to adore me
So Christian Dior me from my head to my toes" and
"So machiavell me, make an Argentine rose".

I liked less the rejection of Che as he is stripped and covered in blue and paint but he does get to clearly state the other side to Evita's charitable activities for the poor and women and orphans, in health and education and her championing of the vote for women here:
"Your nation which a few years ago had the second largest gold reserve in the world is now bankrupt. Your country which grew up and grew rich on beef is now rationing it. La Prensa, one of the few newspapers which dare to oppose Peronism has now been silenced and so have all the other reasonable voices," in "Dice Are Rolling" from Che.

I didn't find myself tearful for the death of Evita but then I suspect I never have. The tunes are beautiful but especially in Jamie Lloyd's production, we can see that "Santa Evita" is about manipulation rather than sainthood. One interesting thing is if it transfers indoors, the pyrotechnics would set off the smoke alarms and I wouldn't miss them that much. I thoroughly enjoyed Evita for its choreographic visuals and the beauty of the music, lyrics you never miss hearing and a wonderful orchestra. Highly recommended.





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PRODUCTION NOTES
Evita
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Directed by Jamie Lloyd
Starring: Samantha Pauly, Trent Saunders, Ektor Rivera, Adam Pearce, Frances Mayli McCann
With: Alexander Barria, Felipe Bejarano, Alex Cardall, Russell Dickson, Lauren Drew, Hannah Fairclough, Chris Fung, Chloe Hart, Travis Kerry, Jessica Lee, Mireia Mambo, Dale Mathurin, Peter Nash, Sarah Naudi, Bree Smith, Marsha Songcome, Monica Swayne, Oliver Tester, Amy Thornton, Jon Tsouras, Rodney Vubya, Saffia Layla, Ava Masters, Chanai Owusu-Ansah, Ellicia Simonwood
Design: Soutra Gilmour
Musical Supervisor: Alan Williams
Choreographer: Fabian Aloise
Sound Designer: Nick Lidster for Autograph
Lighting Design: Jon Clark
Fight director: Kate Waters
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0333 400 3561
Booking to 21st September 2019
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 9th August 2019 evening performance at The Open Air, Regent's Park, Inner Circle London N1 4NU (Tube: Baker Street)
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