Evita, Bristol Hippodrome

AS someone who still owns the original, white-sleeved, album, starring Julie Covington as Eva and a young Colm Wilkinson as Che; who remembers David Essex and Elaine Paige being cast in the stage show reach newspaper front pages in the 1970s; and who loved the chain of pop videos that was Alan Parker’s film of the late 1990s with Madonna and Antonio Banderas, I was excited at the prospect of seeing this latest staging of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Musical, with Marti Pellow as Che, and Portuguese star Madalena Alberto in the title role.

Evita tells the story of Eva Duarte, later Peron, who rises from nothing to radio actress, marrying the President of Argentina and acquiring saintly popularity whilst championing the cause of the descamisados, the “shirtless” rebels, before dying at the age of 33 from cancer.

Sadly Alberto, a striking Fantine in the 25th Anniversary Les Miserables Concert, was not playing Eva, but Hannah Groves, who plays the part at two shows each week, a tradition which began with the original production, certainly grew in strength as the show progressed, and by the time she got to the song written for the film version, the Oscar-winning You Must Love Me, she was acting and singing to perfection, portraying the dying Evita with sensitivity and passion.

Marti Pellow is a great rock singer, and, as narrator Che, seemed able to tell the story in a style similar to David Essex, but from a very quick straw poll after an overheard comment, many of the audience members who did not already know the show found it hard to hear all his words, and could not follow the story, such a shame in any dramatic piece, but as a fan who knows every word, I enjoyed his interpretation.

As Juan Peron, understudy Joe Maxwell had one of the best voices on the stage, clear and accurate, and comfortable in falsetto on the beautifully rendered She Is A Diamond.

In the minor roles, Nic Gibney sparkled as club singer Magaldi and mistress Sarah McNicholas received a long and thoroughly justified ovation for Another Suitcase in Another Hall.

Above all others, the star of the show is the talented ensemble, with tightly-choreographed tangos, salsas, and witty dance routines that amuse and amaze the audience, especially during Dangerous Jade, when semi choruses of soldiers and society women dance and sing their disapproval of the up and coming Eva.

The band, under the bouncy control of Matthew Loughran, was completely on top of the score, with guitars the stand-out instrument, lovingly cradling some of the quieter ballads.

Powerfully staged, with large staircases and balconies on trucks effortlessly rolled into and out of position, and colonnades flying in and out, this production of what is now a classic British musical is full of theatrical spectacle. It continues at Bristol until 12th October before ending its tour in Southampton the following week.


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