Tag Archives: Evita

Don’t Cry For Eva

EVITA

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 20th August, 2013

There are only three Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals I enjoy: the Joseph one, the Jesus one, and this one.  All three concern an individual who achieves greatness in one way or another, although only the first one ends happily.

Evita is the most ambivalent of the three.  Were it not for the cynical and sarcastic narration of Che, it would be easy to regard the central character as a kind of Lady Diana figure – I believe there are some people who see it as a Cinderella, rags-to-riches tale, but they are missing the point.

It begins in an Argentine cinema.  The screening is interrupted by the announcement of the death of the First Lady.  It’s a “Where were you when Kennedy died?” kind of moment.  (Or “What were you wearing when Versace was shot?”) Cut to the full pomp of a state funeral, complete with Latin incantations.  The blaring discord of Eva’s requiem mass gives us a hint: something is up!  Che steps forward for Oh, What A Circus! framing our perception of Eva from that point on. Marti Pellow looks good if a little gaunt in khaki.  He hits the notes and goes through the motions, but sings without conviction.  He doesn’t believe a word he is singing.  I found him a little too wet, wet, wet for Che’s dry, dry, dry humour.

We meet Eva Duarte in a parochial bar.  A fling with a travelling singer (an appropriately cheesy Nic Gibney) is her ticket to Buenos Aires.  She is a transparent Machiavel, beavering her way to the top. But what is also clear is that Madalena Alberto is a major talent.  Her performance is the engine of this production.  You want to applaud and cheer everything she does but don’t want it to seem like you are condoning Eva’s actions.  She meets Juan Peron and seduces him with I’d Be Surprising Good For You – the show really does have some of Lloyd Webber’s best tunes (even if Magaldi’s Night of a Thousand Stars is a direct rip-off of Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom Wine…) As Peron, Mark Heenehan is very strong, keeping on the right side of operatic, bombastic in public and tender in private.  His election promises are attractive (Nationalisation of industries under foreign control, tackling poverty and social injustice) and you think, yes, please, we could do with some of that here.  Of course, it’s all empty talk.  Once in power, the Perons turn out to be like politicians everywhere.  Eva claims her jewels and finery are for everyone – the claims ring as hollow as Cameron’s “all in this together” bullshittery.

The staging is kept simple but is evocative of place and period.  Archways suggest power and permanence, but staircases also feature a great deal, suggesting the climb of Eva’s status.  The choreography supports the design aesthetic: the aristocracy and the military both have elements of the tango in their movements, although clipped and controlled.  There is a sort of musical chairs number in which the military are picked off one by one and led away with sacks over their heads that is especially chilling, reminding me of how much the piece has in common with Cabaret in its depiction of the rise of fascism.  It is Lloyd Webber’s most Brechtian show – but what are we meant to consider? This changes every time I see the show.  This one comes post-Thatcher’s funeral, and Eva’s number Rainbow High reminds me of the shaping and styling our first woman prime minister went through to create her media image.

Eva appears on balcony for Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, the show’s most iconic number, sparkling in a gown like a Disney princess.   In context, you realise it’s all spin and manipulation and I think this is the contemporary message of the show.  Don’t be seduced.  Don’t fall for the spin.  These people are corrupt and do not have your interests at heart.

Her come-uppance is not from political means.  Instead she is toppled from power by that great democrat, Death.  She grows visibly frailer – again a testament to the talent of Alberto – and we are reminded that beneath all the manipulations and machinations, she is a human being after all.  But, as with Thatcher, frailty at the end of life does not excuse the actions perpetrated in good health.  Since the film version, the show includes added song You Must Love Me – it’s a lovely tune but I think gilds the lily somewhat.  We only really need Eva’s Lament for the emotional twist of the knife at the end, in which she cries out to her unborn children to understand what she has done.

A high-quality production, with an excellent company, Evita is always worth seeing, and always provokes different thoughts.  It was gratifying to hear, when we were filing out of the auditorium that people were singing the praises of Madalena Alberto rather than the character she so powerfully portrays.

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From Slag to Riches

EVITA

Birmingham Hippodrome, Thursday 22nd September, 2011

 

It won’t be easy – you’ll think it’s strange – when I try to explain how I feel… that I still like this show after all of these years.

 

It’s a funny one, Evita, by which I mean, peculiar. A biography of Argentina’s most famous woman distilled into a rags-to-riches story that follows the template of so many others.  Perhaps its origins in real history set it apart from the Cinderella archetype – although modern versions of Cinderella-type stories tend to finish not with a happy-ever-after but with the destruction of the heroine, through excess, accident or, as in the case in point, illness.  Think of The Rose and Breaking Glass, two films that came out around the time Evita was first produced.

 

The complexities of Argentine politics in the 1930s and 40s are sketchily presented and it behoves the audience to do the research (check the programme for useful crib notes) or not.  You can let that wash over you and enjoy the dancing, which in this production is very sharp indeed.

 

The problem I always have is with the central character herself.  I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel.  To paraphrase a line from another  Rice/Lloyd Webber collaboration, I don’t know how to love her.  Clearly and irrefutably, she is presented as a manipulative slut, sleeping – one might say “beavering” – her way to the top.  Cynical narration from omnipresent narrator, Che, puts us in no doubt of this. She is an unstoppable force, out to get what she wants.  We are kept at a distance from our leading lady.  The emotional weight of the first act comes in the form of “Another Suitcase In Another Hall”, delivered by Sasha Ransley as a young mistress turfed out of Peron’s house as soon as Eva gets her hooks into him. This always strikes me as a bit odd.  One of the best songs in the piece is given to a very minor character.  I suppose she provides a counterpoint to the callous conniving of Eva Duarte, and shows us what happens to girls like her who lack Eva’s drive (and opportunity) to get themselves out of the gutter.   It does provide a moment of contrast from the montages charting Eva’s progression up the ranks, and elicits the first big response of the night from the audience.

 

I would have no problem with an entirely Brechtian production, along the lines of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui – the staging allows for it, the libretto cries out for it : “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” is a public relations exercise, after all – but at the end, when Evita finally dies, as we knew she would – we are invited to feel sorry for her. Indeed, the woman seated to my right was audibly sobbing.  Perhaps it’s because in those final scenes when Eva is succumbing to cancer, the humanity of the character is at last revealed.  She confronts her mortality and reminds us of our own.   Yet I always find the gear-shift somewhat hard to manage.  Her ghost drifts on stage and laments for the children she never had but then we are returned to the cynicism of the funeral scenes that opened the show.  A media circus.  In a post-Princess Diana world, we recognise the “falling over ourselves to get all of the misery right” and the quasi-apotheosis of a nation’s darling.  For all of her high-profile charity works, Eva Peron was no saint (as far as this show asserts, at any rate).  This is also familiar.  My perception of the show has changed since it first appeared because the world and I have changed, but what else does the show have to tell us today?

 

Peron’s election promises appear very attractive, seeking to improve the lot of the poor and the working class – the direct opposite of that which our current evil regime is dishing out to us.  Of course, Peron couldn’t and/or didn’t deliver on those promises when in power – which is also all too familiar.

 

Abigail Jaye gives us a feisty Eva, perhaps a little shrill at the top of the show, but powerfully expressing the determination and also the vulnerability of the woman.  Mark Powell’s Che was a little too laid back for my liking – no fire in his belly until the embittered waltz-time duet he shares with Eva in the second act.  The chorus is energetic and precise, as snooty aristocrats and peevish soldiers , making the production numbers very enjoyable.  The set – rounded arches, pillars and wrought iron staircases – is flexible enough to represent a variety of locations, emblematically rather than naturalistically.  The colourful costumes suggest the period and the company is fleshed out in crowd scenes by a troupe of local volunteers, a device that works very well.

 

I don’t think I’ll ever hear an Eva sung with the cold precision of the peerless Julie Covington on the original album release, and I always approach the stage show fully aware of that.  What I do hope for is further enlightenment on an undoubtedly fascinating figure from history (I should just read a book, shouldn’t I?) and on why I like the show. Perhaps it’s because it was written back in a time before Lloyd Webber forgot it is acceptable to have more than two decent tunes in a show.