Evita is a bizarre ‘ole musical, isn’t it? Let’s do a musical about a dictatorship in South America and in particular, the life of Eva Peron, says Tim Rice, who was obsessed with the life of the former First Lady. Go on then, says his then long-time writing partner, Andrew Lloyd Webber.
So they do, and they do it well, so much so that the coveted role of Evita has been fought over by every female musical star since Julie Covington first recorded Don’t Cry For Me Argentina back in 1978. In quick succession, with Olivier and Tony awards tucked under its proverbial Dior dress, the show has become a firm part of musical history.
The story follows the power, hunger and ambition of a girl who is abandoned and rejected by her father’s family. Her drive to become an actress takes her to the bustle of the capital Buenos Aires, and there she is granted her wish. This ambition is matched by Colonel Juan Perón, leader of the military regime, and when they meet, fall in love and marry, it drives them both towards the ultimate goal: to rule as they see fit and to do it on their terms.
This doesn’t sound like a recipe for a musical hit. But underneath the need to climb to the top is a very real, very human need, the need to love and, more to the point, to be loved. Without this foundation there is nothingness and no amount of Dior or diamonds can fill that void.
So here we are in 2013 and the musical still has pertinence. In our austere times, the nation has embraced the women who might offer us some small comfort. The likes of Kate Middleton or Katherine Jenkins bring glamour, hope and distraction from reality; they are baubles we don’t want to brush aside and we cannot help but pore over their near saintly existence. Princess Di did it, so did Grace Kelly – we love an almost-untouchable heroine who’s just like us but not like us at all, blessed with beauty and a charmed life. We want to be near them, we want to be like them. Damn! We want to be them. And so, as Che warns the nation that they are staring at a mirage, he’s really warning us all.
This production at The Lowry sees BRIT and Ivor-Novella award wining singer/songwriter Marti Pellow take on the role of Che, our narrator and Greek Chorus. At 48, Pellow doesn’t look a day over 35. He skips and leaps about the stage, overseeing the events of the rise and rise and eventual fall of the Peróns. His voice may not be quite as powerful as his musical theatre comrades but, by jingo, he gives it his all and he shines in the part.
Perón is played by Mark Heenehan and, like the man he plays, the role is often overlooked. Heenehan is wonderful as is his mistress, Sarah McNicholas, who delivers the right measure of fragility and broken-heartedness in her solo Another Suitcase in Another Hall.
The part of Evita is a challenge, not only in the musical numbers which demand a lot but also in the journey the performer is asked to take. Madonna did a resplendent job in Alan Parker’s 1996 film version. Ambitious and hungry for it, she wrote to Parker begging for the role. She simply had to have the part that she was born to play. She was Evita. Many stars of stage and screen were considered – Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Michelle Pfeiffer, Olivia Newton-John and Elaine Paige (who was screen-tested twice and romantically involved with Rice at the time) – but Madonna won. And for those Madonna naysayers, let’s not forget she won a much-deserved Golden Globe for her efforts.
It’s hard to follow in the footsteps of Madonna, of Covington and of Paige, and to emulate what has gone before would be a mistake. Madalena Alberto as Evita is a triumph. How do you make a role like that all of your own? Alberto has found nuances within the character which bring new meaning to the well-known hits, and her voice is sensational. She hits the high notes and soars from the get-go. It wouldn’t even be the tiniest bit verbose to say Alberto is a sensation.
Eva Peron lived until she was 33. The musical is one of her legacies. Now in its 35th year, it really isn’t too shabby.
Review by Lucia Cox
Images by Keith Pattison
Where: The Lowry, Salford Quays, Salford and touring
When: until August 10, 2013
More info: www.thelowry.com/event/evita1