Review of Evita at the Dominion Theatre in 2014
Part biographical pageant and part pop opera, Evita remains the crowning dramatic achievement of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's relatively brief but genre-busting musical collaborations of the late 1960s and 1970s. Their final full work together was originally premiered in the West End in 1978 in a production by Hal Prince that's still remembered for its seamless cinematic sweep; the show returned in 2006 in a more operatically-inclined Michael Grandage staging that gave it huge scale but brought human emotion into play with the stunning Eva Peron of Argentinian-born Elena Roger.
Now the show returns, for an all-too-brief 55 performance run at the Dominion, courtesy of a touring production that producer Bill Kenwright (who also co-directs with Bob Tomson) first launched in Liverpool in 2008. I saw it then and was knocked out by the blazing star turn of Louise Dearman, unknown at the time but now a West End fixture; now, as this production deservedly arrives in London, it's the turn of another unknown, Madelena Alberto, to tackle the title role with both a ferocity and fragility that is sure to turn her into a star, too.
I first noticed Ms Alberto two years ago in a tiny fringe theatre in south London the Union; she now swaps that 50 seater for the 2,069 seater Dominion, and completely fills the space with the power of her voice and her acting. The show, of course, is based on the true story of an unknown actress who becomes a star player in Argentina as wife to the President, so it is appropriate that the show itself makes stars of unknowns. Alberto brings a fierce passion to her renditions of such iconic songs as 'Don't Cry For Me, Argentina' and the knock-out 'Buenos Aires'.
There's a sketch in the current Forbidden Broadway where a stand-in for Alberto sings of her distinct lack of star quality; in fact that's so wide of the mark that after seeing her in it now I recommend it be amended, as it is so untrue that it is simply not funny.
It could, however, be turned against Marti Pellow instead, the one-time pop star, who is simply wet wet wet as Che. As he struts aimlessly around the stage, he keeps striking agonisingly earnest poses, and his throaty voice is no compensatory pleasure, either.
There's better news, however, in the powerful singing of Ben Forster and Matthew Cammelle as Magaldi and Peron respectively, and a terrific ensemble around them, stunningly supported by a 10-strong orchestra led by David Steadman, who give the music real power.
The production is a visual feast, too, thanks to Matthew Wright's design of a series of receding proscenium arches that variously reassemble to represent presidential palaces and public squares, all of it lit with atmospheric precision by Mark Howett.
Like Chicago, another musical of the 70s that resonates even more strongly now in an age of phoney celebrity and the media circus that cases like the OJ Simpson and Oscar Pistorious trials became, Evita, too, has come of age as both a critique of the deification of an individual and a lesson in the political hypocrisies it enables.
So seeing Evita works on many parallel levels. Next up, the National is offering Here Lies Love, a new musical from New York about Imelda Marcos, who was wife to another dictator, this time of the Philippines. But Evita got there first and with a lot of originality.
"You may end up feeling that the show’s heart is in the right place – and that Evita’s was too. But it’s a close call."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"The music is brilliant as ever; it’s the bits in between the songs that are the problem. The actors’ over- blown gestures seem strained."
Emily Jupp for The Independent
"If the show still works, it is largely because it boasts one of Lloyd Webber’s best, most tightly composed scores. It uses Latin American rhythms, military marches, and wistful ballads yet constantly returns to a key melodic phrase in the big number."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright direct slickly, employing a large ensemble to give a sense of both the lighter and darker sides of Buenos Aires life. But the limited seven-week run is the best thing for this Evita."
Fiona Mountford for The Evening Standard