MusicalReviewSouth East

Evita – Theatre Royal, Brighton

Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber

Lyrics: Tim Rice

Director: Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright

Reviewer: Michael Hootman

It’s hard to analyse exactly why this production of Evita doesn’t quite work; it does nothing obviously wrong and everyone involved seems perfectly competent. But it never soars or emotionally engages the viewer, and the hairs on the back of my neck remained steadfastly undisturbed. Perhaps it was the performances which seem to lack a certain star quality. Or maybe it’s the show itself which has a number of good songs but not one which could safely be called great.

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical is pretty ambitious in that it tries to give some explanation of the political chicanery that went on in Argentina in the 1940s and ’50s. But it also tells the classic showbiz story of the young girl from the sticks who moves to the capital, gets some acting jobs, works her way up to the top only to have her life cut tragically short. Had it only been written 30 years earlier Judy Garland would have been a shoo-in for the title role.

When we first see Eva (Lucy O’Byrne) she’s falling in love with crooner Agustin Magaldi (played perhaps a tad too comically by Oscar Balmaseda) who takes her to Buenos Aires where he is quickly dumped for a succession of men who each help further her career. After a devastating earthquake, Eva gets star billing at a prototypical Live Aid concert for the victims, and it’s here she meets Colonel Juan Perón (Mike Sterling) who is on his way to becoming the country’s president.

Is Perón a fascist? Or a man of the people who has the unions on his side? Or perhaps both? An Argentinian Everyman figure Che (Glenn Carter) leans towards the former interpretation as he contradicts Mr and Mrs Perón’s version of events and their portrayal as selfless servants of the downtrodden masses. Che should certainly be stronger, angrier and more heroic than Carter portrays him; he never quite manages to be the proletarian firebrand the role needs.

O’Byrne basically has a good voice – though occasionally it tends to be a bit piercing – and gives Evita the required hard-edged determination and even cruelty. She strikes the right note of barely concealed menace when she gets rid of Perón’s former mistress. Her delivery of Evita’s big hit Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina is certainly a highlight of the show (though why someone whose husband has just made the highest political office in the land would expect anyone to cry for her is not made clear). Sterling’s singing is faultless but the role itself is strangely dull; dramatically his story isn’t a patch on his wife’s.

In a word this Evita is lacklustre. Nevertheless, it’s still perfectly watchable and during certain songs (Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina and Another Suitcase in Another Hall) there are glimpses of the great production it could have been.

Runs until Saturday, 3rd November | Image: Pamela Raith

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Lacklustre but perfectly watchable

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