Apart from last fortnight’s excellent outing to King Charles III, I rarely venture into the West End. I kind of know what I’m going to get. And if I was trying to convert a theatre newbie to the power of musicals, I have to be honest, I wouldn’t necessarily take them to Evita.
I am well aware that what I am about to say is probably sacrilegious, ungrateful even. And perhaps I’m a heretic. Or maybe I just don’t get it. But I think it’s time that we took a long, hard, unsentimental look at the collaborative work of Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice to try and understand just why they have been such a huge success. In my humble, and, it has to be said, inexpert opinion, their musicals can be critiqued for being clunky, bemusing and waffly. Jesus Chris Superstar at the O2 a few years back was pretty dreary, and it is fair to say that the lyrics in Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat don’t always make the greatest sense. I also take issue with musicals that rely on a narrator to pull the plot along (see also: Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers). The narrative needs to find its own voice.
And so to Evita. The problem here isn’t the plucky performances, the stirring orchestra or the mesmeric set. But rather that these fine elements are battling against the starchy content and style, which feels dated and a little shabby. I think musical theatre has evolved in the 35 years since Evita premiered, which may explain why recent solo Lloyd-Webber or Rice projects of the Evita mould, From Here To Eternity (Rice) and Stephen Ward (L-W) didn’t make the grade.
I’d hazard a guess that the majority of the audience know the Evita story already. If you don’t, a quick trip to Wikipedia may be advisable, just so you have a grasp as to why Marti Pellow is strutting about the space in a beret. Eva Peron is Argentina’s darling. In an age of post-war uncertainty, she is the saviour of the country and of her government. She is deified by foreign powers, most dubiously Franco’s fascist Spain. Yet Eva grows frail and weak, and eventually dies, having committed her energy and life to her country’s prosperity. It’s a strong story.
Madalena Alberto gives a rousing performance as Eva. She dominates the stage with a weighty voice and presence, and juxtaposes this with her ultimate, bird-like fragility. Alberto provides real poignancy and does credit to the notable performers who have played Evita before her. Marti Pellow does the trick as Che Guevara. Yet, set in the home of the tango, there are not enough choreographed sequences for me, and the production lacks that Peron-esque resilience and punch.
Don’t get me wrong: ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ is a powerhouse of a song, and I’m sure that this production will be a huge hit. I just can’t help feel that musical theatre is a different, more nuanced, beast these days.
Evita is at the Dominion Theatre until 1 November. For more information and tickets see the Evita website. Photo by Darren Bell.