Review - Evita at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
It’s Evita, Jim, but not as we know it… Shortly into Act I of this new staging of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s beloved 1978 musical at the Open Air Theatre, that strangely feels as stripped back as it does overstuffed, Agustin Magaldi serenades us with “On This Night of a Thousand Stars.” I looked up towards the stars myself and couldn’t help but wonder what the great Harold Prince, the musical’s original director who sadly passed away just over a week ago, would be thinking right now. If Hal’s up there looking down onto this al fresco stage, what would he make of visionary director Jamie Lloyd’s take on one of the shows that solidified his own standing as the Prince of Broadway?
Some works lend themselves well to the future tinkerings of bold, young directors and some should be delivered straight to the taxidermy room for strict preservation for the rest of eternity. The Open Air Theatre enjoyed tremendous success with an edgy, silver paint and glitter-infused version of another Lloyd Webber-Rice classic back in 2016 with Jesus Christ Superstar, which returned to the venue for a second sold-out run in 2017 and can currently be seen at the Barbican until 24th August. Could lightning strike twice?
It should come as no surprise that director Jamie Lloyd, who has made a name for himself with daring re-imaginings of classics such as his Olivier-nominated revivals of Piaf and the Scottish play, has gone to town with this production. Yes, folks, “Oh! What a Circus”. There, I said it! I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed as many confetti cannons and pyrotechnics in all my years of attending the theatre and I’ve certainly never seen as many impetuously unleashed at the Open Air Theatre before.
From smoke flares to spray cans to buckets of white and sky blue paint, Lloyd’s motifs are omnipresent and dominant in this production and some land better than others. For example, his use of balloons works brilliantly during “The Art of the Possible” musical number as those generals who would oppose the corrupt Argentinian regime are underhandedly 'silenced,' signified on stage by the bursting of their respective balloons. Some choices may come across as a little too abstract for the demographic of Regent’s Park musical lovers, however, such as the decimation of Che, who strips down to his underwear towards the end of the production before Eva herself attacks him with buckets of paint and a bucket of confetti.
Trent Saunders’ portrayal of Che, complete with khaki pants and a red T-shirt sporting the epochal image of Che Guevara, is a misfire in the sense that the character staggers around the stage angrily or disorientated or even seemingly inebriated at times and therefore no longer commands our attention as the character should. Saunders undoubtedly has the talent and the vocals in his arsenal, it would have been intriguing to experience a more authoritative or else more sympathetic interpretation.
Samantha Pauly and Ektor Rivera are both physically stunning and well-matched as Eva and Juan Perón, respectively, and Pauly delivers the big numbers like “Buenos Aires” and the immortal “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” effortlessly. Spending most of the show in her loose-fitting slip, symbolic of Eva’s lower-class beginnings as well as the bedroom, where she would instigate her rise through the ranks of society, it is only in the dying moments of the show (after Eva’s untimely death) that we finally see Pauly kitted out in the classic white, sparkling dress, jewellery and blonde wig. She raises her arms in the air to give the audience that iconic pose, etched in musical theatre history forever, and freezes like a glorious tombstone as the lights fade to black… and most of the Evita purists in attendance finally get a glimpse of what they came for.
Evita tickets are available now.
(Photo by Marc Brenner)