evita coffin

Gian Marco Schiaretti as Che looks on as Juan Perón kneels by the coffin of his wife Eva

on Matthew Wright's magnificent set


Birmingham Hippodrome


It's more than 30 years since I first saw Evita, and I have seen it quite a few times over the years since then, but this is something else, on a different plane, by far and away the best Evita I have ever seen.

Directors Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright have given Webber and Rice’s magnificent creation the treatment it deserved to turn the original concept album into what it always wanted and threatened to be – a real rock opera.

This is no live performance of animated album tracks, this is a full-blown musical, putting each song into context, developing the story of Eva María Duarte. Eva, the girl from rural poverty in Argentina who captivated the nation, becoming its first lady until her untimely death from cervical cancer aged just 33.

Clever tweaking and rearranging gives songs more meaning while the glorious staging makes this not just a musical but also a visual treat. Even the iconic Don’t Cry For Me Argentina with clever phrasing and emphasis has become much less a pop song showstopper and much more a heartfelt part of the story.

The huge balcony gliding out to the edge of the stage so Evita sings it directly to the audience, rather than to the people on stage is a masterful touch changing its perspective and effect completely. This is Eva appealing directly to us, not a dozen people on stage.

Eva is played by Portuguese mezzo soprano Madalena Alberto who played the role in an earlier production in the West End in 2014. She manages the transition from the waif-like wannabe actress, escaping destitution in a poor village, to the sophisticated power behind the throne, wife of President Juan Perón, with, as Eva puts it herself, star quality.

And what a voice. Soft or loud – and she has the power to really manage loud – it is clear as a bell, with a rich, warm tone and you can hear every word. Her dying is quite moving as Perón tenderly sings the emotion filled Your Little Body’s Slowly Breaking Down and she replies with a plaintive, soft You Must Love Me, the song added for the 1996 film version.

Jeremy Secomb is a wonderful Perón, with a powerful, subtle baritone voice and the military bearing to give the president some gravitas in the huge social changes he engineered in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

evital and juan

Madalena Alberto as Evita and Jeremy Secomb as Juan Perón

Acting as narrator is Che, played by Italian tenor Gian Marco Schiaretti who made his West End debut in the role last year. It is a quite superb performance with a voice that can express every emotion from powerful anger to tender falsetto, and as with Alberto, you can hear the words he sings. 

Schiaretti’s Che wears cynicism like a bespoke Savile Row suit, bestriding the stage with attitude as he passes comment on the rise and rise . . . and rise of Sante Evita.

There is excellent support from Oscar Balmaseda as the somewhat sleazy tango singer Agustin Magaldi and his wonderfully affected version of On This Night of a Thousand Stars, while a little gem hidden among the stars came from Cristina Hoey as Perón’s discarded mistress with a quite lovely Another Suitcase in Another Hall. We had never met her, never seen her before, but Hoey made us feel for her character with just that one song. What a Fantine she would make.

The production has an excellent ensemble, 17 strong, who provide nuns, priests, soldiers, aristocrats, police, stylists – the trappings of power – as well as the people. Their choral work is first class and they provide added life and colour to scene after scene.

A fine nine strong orchestra under tour musical director Tim Whiting provide a full rich sound and sound designer Dan Samson deserves some credit for managing a good balance between musicians and singers at theatre filling volumes.

Matthew Wright’s design is rich and sumptuous, and big, with a hint of grand opera about it, with authentic looking costumes and wigs. Eva’s piano black coffin shining amod the gloom on its catafalque under towering columns to open and close Evita, is as sombre and majestic as it gets. This is a big budget production and it shows in every wonderful moment and everywhere you look.

It might not be a night of a thousand stars but there are certainly a couple of dozen of them shining bright in what is, so far, the definitive production of this wonderful musical. One not to miss. To 24-03-18.

Roger Clarke


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