If the rain held off at the Open Air Theatre performance of Evita that I attended until the very second the bows ended, it was otherwise raining anyway with confetti as the production felt it necessary to give Eva Perón (1919-1952) (Samantha Pauly) ticker tape parades galore. One of those fully sung-through musicals, the show’s title is (as I learned from a fellow theatregoer on the night) the Spanish term of endearment that roughly translates as ‘little Eva’ – as it happens, she grew to be 5’ 5”. Che (Trent Saunders) narrates, more often in this production with what comes across as an attempt at impartiality rather than passionate fury at the effects of Peronism on Argentinian society; at other times, it’s as though he is under the influence of alcohol. It never was (at least not in my view) a character particularly well developed, in as much as the majority of what he says amounts to ‘Evita this, Evita that’ and little, if anything, about himself.
As for the other main characters (this production boasts a 21-strong ensemble, none of whose characters are named) – there’s Juan Perón (1895-1974) (Ektor Rivera), who rose to become President of Argentina in 1946 before eventually being deposed in a coup in 1955, only to be re-elected in 1973 and dying in office. Agustin Magaldi (1898-1938) (Adam Pearce) was a tango singer, popular in his day – somewhat bizarrely, the musical has him singing at a benefit concert for the victims of the 1944 San Juan earthquake, when in fact he would have been dead for at least five years. Finally, The Mistress (Frances Mayli McCann), who gets the musical number ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’ by her very presence leads one to conclude that President Perón wasn’t exactly a benchmark of faithfulness.
On a personal note, I’ve always preferred Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita to his The Phantom of the Opera, on the grounds that there’s a stronger storyline for patrons to digest. Except here, every scene is set in non-specific every-place, to the point where I felt I was relying on backwater memories of a previous touring production of the show to figure out what was going on. In short, there is no scenery at all. I’m not sure how well someone coming to this production without any prior knowledge of the plot would work it all out. There are some costume designs here that are very simplistic, and this is an Evita who looks like she’s about to go raving in the nightclubs of Camden Town rather than someone with an ambition to be Vice-President (apparently ‘First Lady’ wasn’t enough).
If there’s one thing that this production does flawlessly, it’s the choreography (Fabian Aloise), which has, for instance, the large cast moving to the rallying ‘A New Argentina’ with an infectious positivity, such that one’s heart would have to be made of stone not to be moved by it in some way. But all the ticker tape frankly gets a bit boring – the audience already knows the production can produce confetti, and lots of it, so is there anything else up their sleeves? And why does Eva throw buckets of paint over Che? (What a waste of perfectly decent paint.)
The orchestra, conducted by Alan Williams, is almost as large as the cast, and takes up residence on-stage. Their volume is not as loud as some previous bands and orchestras have been at the venue, but it is a richer, more refined sound. But President and Mrs Perón didn’t seem to have much convincing chemistry, even at the courting stage of their relationship. Rivera’s Perón also wasn’t altogether as authoritative as someone in his position would reasonably be expected to be, utterly commanding the stage with a highly assertive stage presence. Still, it’s called Evita for a reason, and the production does a reasonable job of portraying this unique character with nuance and dignity.
Review by Chris Omaweng
From a life of poverty to spiritual leader of the nation, Eva Peron was loved, hated, derided and venerated. Dividing the Argentinian people with her patriotic speeches, her ambition, glamour and magnetism established ‘Evita’ as the world’s first major political celebrity.
With a chart-topping score including Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, Oh What A Circus, Another Suitcase in Another Hall, and the Oscar-winning You Must Love Me, Jamie Lloyd directs Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic musical.
The cast includes: Alexander Barria, Felipe Bejarano, Alex Cardall, Russell Dickson, Lauren Drew, Hannah Fairclough, Chris Fung, Chlöe Hart, Travis Kerry, Jessica Lee, Dale Mathurin, Frances Mayli McCann, Peter Nash, Sarah Naudi, Mireia Mambo, Samantha Pauly, Adam Pearce, Ektor Rivera, Trent Saunders, Marsha Songcome, Bree Smith, Monica Swayne, Oliver Tester, Amy Thornton, Jon Tsouras and Rodney Vubya. Four children alternate at each performance: Saffia Layla, Ava Masters, Chanai Owusu-Ansah and Ellicia Simondwood.
Director Jamie Lloyd
Designer Soutra Gilmour
Choreographer Fabian Aloise
Musical Supervisor Alan Williams
Lighting Designer Jon Clark
Sound Designer Nick Lidster (for Autograph)
Season Associate Director (Voice and Text) Barbara Houseman
Fight Director Kate Waters
Casting Director Will Burton, CDG for DGA
Casting Director (USA) Tara Rubin Casting: Merri Sugarman, CSA
Casting Director (Children) Adelle Moss
Directed by Jamie Lloyd
Open Air Theatre, Inner Circle, Regent’s Park, London, NW1 4NU
Booking to Saturday 21st September 2019