Milton Keynes Theatre
30 September 2008
You Must Love This!
Despite my best intentions in the past 30 years or so, I had only ever seen the film of Evita, in which Madonna played the title role. And I have to say that I think this is the only film that she ever showed an ounce of acting talent despite her whole life being a performance. But I digress. I knew I liked the music, so really wanted to see it on the stage – and I wasn’t disappointed!
Evita depicts the story of Eva Peron and her journey from poverty stricken rural Argentina to Buenos Aires where she pursued a career as a stage, radio, and film actress before becoming the second wife of President Juan Peron and serving as the First Lady of Argentina from 1946 until her death in 1952.
The musical of her life shows Andrew Lloyd Webber in his hey day and this, I feel, is down to the fact that the genius that is Sir Tim Rice was the lyricist. Without Tim, I think it’s fair to say that ALW just does pretty tunes. The mix of humour and drama that Rice’s lyrics inject into all the musicals that the two of them produced together, make them some of the best shows we’ve ever had – and Evita is no exception.
The lyrics are packed with references to Eva being an actress and that her life is a show, one big pantomime. She was therefore the perfect person to have a show written about her, and this musical highlights her use of style and manipulation of image to the end.
The fact is that Eva Peron is not a person you can really feel for. Power hungry, manipulative and fiercely attention-seeking, she was not a woman’s woman and for all the good that she is supposed to have done, there is a strong suggestion that many of her dealings were somewhat shady. So why, at the end, as she did her last broadcast, did I find a tear trickling down my face? Well, it seems that the performer in her had seduced me as well as all those Argentinians many years before.
This of course was down to the performances of a strong ensemble cast and in particular that of Louise Dearman who plays Eva. It had been quite a leap for her from selling programmes and showing people to their seats when she worked front of house at the Milton Keynes Theatre to being on the stage. But she now has audiences on the edge of those seats as she brilliantly conveys Eva’s journey from ambitious 15-year-old to being first lady of her country, still ambitious but dying of cancer.
A huge voice comes from the tiny Louise and she superbly shows the real person behind the hard mask and touched the vulnerability in all of us. And small as she is against the more statuesque and hugely impressive Mark Heenehan’s Peron, the chemistry between the two was palpable in a way that the mismatched Tony and Maria wasn’t in West Side Story a fortnight ago.
Another star of the show is Seamus Cullen. He was the slightly unkempt looking one with bags of attitude in BBC TV’s Any Dream Will Do, but now that “edge” is being put to good use in his role as Che. And I have to say that I think he is far more suited to this role than that of the frankly rather annoying Joseph! His voice is pure and clear and in this narration role, he holds the whole thing together with humour, anger and panache.
Special mention must also go to Nikki Mae as the Mistress on her professional debut. The song “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” is a classic song and she performs it with feeling. I do feel that it’s odd that this character just appears, sings a fab song then both of them – her and the song – disappear again, apart from a couple of lines of tune later in the show. It’s as if Rice and Lloyd Webber wrote the song, thought it a good commercial piece so decided to shove it in one of their creations! I won’t complain though – it’s a great song!
And this is a great show, well-performed which touches the emotions and sends you off into the night thinking that maybe there is a human being behind even the most odious public figures!