EVITA is one of the all-time great musicals – it has a strong (true) story, exciting music, memorable songs and two of the most demanding roles in music theatre. Yeovil Amateur Operatic Society does splendid justice to this Lloyd Webber-Rice masterpiece!
It’s a cleverly constructed show, because you get both the icon of Argentina’s poverty-stricken masses and a sharp observer-narrator who moves the action (and even the set) along, probing the reality behind the myth of the angel of les descomisados (literally “the shirtless ones”).
It’s a huge challenge for Jennifer Holland-Brewer in the title role – the ambitious low-class showgirl, who climbs the ladder to power through the beds of increasingly influential men, to become the mistress and then the wife of the new president, General Juan Peron, is acclaimed as the saviour of the poor and succumbs to a cancer that will kill her at the age of just 33
Helped by costume and hair colour changes, from long dark curls and pretty 1940s frocks to the glamorous couture-clad blonde of the great Buenos Aires rallies, Jennifer Holland-Brewer seems to grow taller and slimmer with the rise to power, before the cancer eats her away to a shrunken shell. It is a performance of passion and vocal and physical skill.
Peron is played by the imposing Steve Williams, who captures the ambiguities of a greedy and dangerous man happy to use his charismatic wife to win over the people and seize power, against the combined opposition of the upper class elite and Argentina’s powerful military.
The narrator, Che, on stage throughout the show, is played by the excellent Luke Whitchurch, who brings an abrasive cynicism and strong physicality to this pivotal role.
Paul Dyke is perfect as the louche tango singer who takes Eva to Buenos Aires and Sarah Middleditch makes a huge impression with the small but important role of Peron’s rejected mistress. She gives a heart-wrenching performance of her solo, one of the show’s finest songs, Another Suitcase in Another Hall.
Director Jeremy Tustin – who covered the leading roles in Evita on tour with Marti Webb – has created a compelling drama with first-rate performances from every member of the cast and chorus. There is real conviction in the grief at Evita’s death, the exultation at Peron’s election victory and the quasi-religious fervour with which ordinary people greet their golden “queen.”
The orchestra, under the expert direction of Gill Merrifield, is simply brilliant, interpreting the dark, tango-inflected score, the big anthems and the most famous songs (Another Suitcase and Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina).
Evita runs to 19th March at the Octagon. The theatre was almost full on the opening night – book quickly or you may miss out on a superb production of a great show.