Review - Evita at the Phoenix Theatre

Emma Hatton in Evita
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Wednesday, 2 August, 2017
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Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the stage premiere of Evita at London's Prince Edward Theatre - longer than its title character Eva Peron herself lived - and now it's back in the West End again at the Phoenix, virtually across the street from its original home.

It is part of a Lloyd Webber fest in town, which also includes his latest show School of Rock (at the New London), his longest running show The Phantom of the Opera (at Her Majesty's) and arguably his greatest rock score Jesus Christ Superstar (at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre). But Evita remains, to me, his signature and defining dramatic masterpiece; it was his third (and sadly last) full-scale collaboration with lyricist Tim Rice, who not only suggested the life story of Eva Peron for a musical but whose clever lyrics maintain the propulsion of its storytelling.

Lloyd Webber's gorgeous score is packed with hits: songs like "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" and "Another Suitcase in Another Hall" have become popular standards, but there are also extraordinary songs like "Buenos Aires", "I'd be Surprisingly Good For You" and "High Flying Adored" which are variously full of showbiz sizzle and tender yearning.  

Bill Kenwright and Bob Tomson's production, which has been touring the UK since 2008, previously visited the West End's vast Dominion Theatre in 2014. Now it fits more snugly into the more intimate Phoenix, and it is even more powerful than it was before, with its huge set of imposing cathedral-like arches and balconies (designed by Matthew Wright) enfolding the action while also giving ample room for choreographer Bill Deamer's dances to explode in.

 It's a show that gives soaring voice to an iconic story and personality who went from ambitious actress to First Lady that it has itself helped to popularise far beyond Latin America. And this time around, it affords a stunning showcase to Emma Hatton - an alumnus of Wicked, in which she played Elphaba - to play the title role, who channels Elaine Paige, the show's original Eva Peron, in her diminutive physique but outsize voice. But she also makes it entirely her own with the ferocity of a personality whose grasping ambition takes no prisoners in her relentless climb to the top.

As general Peron whose coat-tails she rides on so shamelessly, Kevin Stephen-Jones is also impressively authoritative, not to say authoritarian. With President Trump in the White House, it is difficult not to think of contemporary parallels.

The production's rich canvas is also stunningly set by Gian Marco Schiaretti's narrator-like figure of Che, while an exceptionally well-drilled company provides great support.

It remains a must-see.

Evita Tickets are available now. 

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