I had no idea that the hugely successful Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical Evita is nearly as old as I am; I celebrate my 40th this year while Evita celebrates that milestone next year. First performed in the West End in 1978 where it won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Musical, it then gained a whole new set of fans and an Oscar after its big screen incarnation in the 1996 film starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas. Following its smash hit run at London’s Dominion Theatre, Bill Kenwright’s production of Evita hit The Bristol Hippodrome last night, and I was lucky enough to get some of these most sought after tickets.
Evita is the story of Argentina’s most famous lady Eva Peron, and the musical charts the rise and fall of this iconic woman. Affectionately known as Evita, she rose to a powerful position as First Lady to Juan Peron from her humble and inauspicious beginnings. Trapped and bored with her family in rural Argentina in the 1930’s, she escapes to Buenos Aires, where she is determined to become a star. She soon learns the ability to move up in the social stratosphere through her power to seduce a series of wealthy or influential men, and her rise to power is cemented when she meets Colonel Juan Peron at a benefit to aid the victims of a devastating earthquake. Peron is an ambitious politician with a great desire for power and an eye on the presidency. Seduced by the man and the potential for her own power, the two fall in love. The poor and downtrodden members of society adore Eva and Juan, and in 1946 Peron is elected president with a huge majority. However, it soon becomes clear that his wife is the main focus for all the love and adoration although she splits the crowd; for every supporter she also has a detractor. Eva Peron it seems was either loved or hated despite gaining the title of “Spiritual Leader of the Nation” shortly before her death.
I loved the film version of Evita, but had never seen the musical. I am glad to say that this version is wonderful and does not disappoint. Emma Hatton takes on the role of Eva, and really is phenomenal. She manages to convey the wild and unbridled ambition of young Eva, the passion and authority of Eva as First Lady, and the vulnerability and weakness of the woman prematurely dying of terminal cancer with a flawless performance and beautiful vocal abilities. I overheard a fellow audience member comparing her to Elaine Paige who also has taken on this role, but declaring that Hatton had the edge. Gian Marco Schiaretti makes his UK debut in this performance as narrator Che. You’ll recognise the look of a famous Cuban communist leader in his early days as an unknown. Shiaretti holds the show together with a strong performance. Little is said about this actor in the programme, but I get the impression that he will certainly fill more space with his credits as his considerable talent takes him to bigger things. Discussing him with friends after the show, they felt he could have done with loosening up a little and being a little less ‘action man’. The couple behind me could not have disagreed more; it was clear that they believed the rippling muscles of his chest to be one of the highlights of the show! Kevin Stephen-Jones gave a solid performance as Juan Peron. He was always going to be somewhat in the shadow of Eva as the man would have been in real life, but his voice was strong and his stage presence commanding. The supporting cast were excellent. Visually this show was dazzling and the dancers were always on point.
Even if you don’t know the story you are bound to recognise a song or two, whether it is the heart-breaking ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’ sung so beautifully by Sarah O’Connor, or most likely the iconic signature solo “Don’t cry for me, Argentina.” Evita is a great night out that will leave you feeling glad you made the trip out to the Bristol Hippodrome on a cold and dark February evening, and seeing it has brightened up my month. If you want to catch the show, you need to be quick though, it runs until Saturday 18th Feb. Tickets are available here.
Review by Karen Blake