Despite tight performances, incredible choreography and an incisive examination of the socio-political factors which lead to Eva Perón’s rise, ‘Evita’ underdelivers on an emotional level
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Evita, the rags to riches story of Eva ‘Evita’ Perón (née Duarte), a small town girl who climbed the social ladder to become the wife of Argentina’s President, Colonel Juan Perón, ushered in the era of the mega-musical. Without the 1978 production of Evita, a wholly sung tale of ambition, love, loss and betrayal set against an epic backdrop, there would be no Phantom of the Opera or Les Miserables, yet unlike those shows its West End and Broadway runs were limited to eight and seven years, respectively, and it’s only surfaced as a touring musical since then, with a West End revival in 2006 that lasted for just 13 months. With the latest touring production, at Dublin’s Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, you get a sense of the reason why.
The show opens in 1952 with a broadcast interrupting a soap opera to announce the untimely demise of Eva Perón, followed by a much-laboured funeral for the beloved Eva, which is where the audience meets Che (Gian Marco Schiaretti), our charismatic (and handsome) narrator of Eva’s life story. Che’s costume and demeanour bear an uncanny resemblance to Che Guevara, who, graduating college in 1953, had no actual connection with Eva Perón in his life. Rather, Che seems to represent the working class Argentinians who adored Eva as one of their own, despite her duplicitous nature.
Jumping back to the 1930’s a teenage Eva (Emma Hatton, although in this performance the alternate, Natalie Langston, played the role) bursts onto the stage alongside a tango singer, Agustin Magaldi, who she convinces to take her with him to the Big Apple, Buenos Aires.
When she gets to the Argentine capital, Eva steals the stage with ‘Buenos Aires’ one of the stand-out numbers of the show and begins sleeping her way up the social ladder, all the while progressing her career as an actress, model and radio presenter.
It’s here that Eva’s true personality shines true: her abrasive and self-centred portrayal is expertly brought to life by Langston’s calculated, brash vocals, serving to alienate Eva from the audience. This unfavourable portrayal of Eva comes as no surprise since the musical is said to be largely based on Mary Main’s eminently critical biography of Evita: The Woman With The Whip.
After an earthquake devastates Argentina, ambitious politico Juan Perón throws a charity fundraiser. It’s here that Eva jettisons a lover to seduce him with the number ‘I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You’, in which she highlights how advantageous their coupling would be for their careers. At this point it’s clear, there’s no doubt in our minds that Eva will do anything to achieve her ambitions, pushing any hope of connecting with a sympathetic audience to the wings of the stage.
Exploiting on her small-town background, Eva uses her union with the presidential candidate Perón to highlight his grassroots ideals to her radio listeners: “He supports you, for he loves you, understands you, is one of you. If not, how could he love me,” she sings.
After Perón is successfully elected as the President of Argentina, effectively becoming a dictator, Eva continues to enamour herself with the people of Argentina by embracing fashion opportunities, fundraising and travelling the globe to secure diplomatic relationships with foreign states in what became known as the ‘Rainbow Tour’.
Ultimately, Eva’s body becomes frail with cancer, leaving her wearied and stripped of the façade she so expertly held up for the majority of the show. In one of the more intimate numbers, ‘You Must Love Me’, a fragile Evita finally realises that Perón loves her for her, and not what she can do for him politically.
This scene offers a glimpse of true vulnerability for the eponymous character whose personality and presentation borders on caustic for the majority of Evita. But it’s too little, too late for the calculated public figure and it definitely doesn’t go far enough to help forge a compassionate emotional connection between Eva and the audience.
What Evita might be lacking in big belters (save, of course, for Eva’s ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’, which fails to land on an emotional level) or emotionally charged scenes, it makes up for in its clever social commentary.
The trajectory of Eva Perón from working class girl in small-town Junin to President’s wife in Buenos Aires, adored by all Argentina, is an incisive examination of class, and whether it’s possible or not to transcend your roots, no matter how ambitious you are. In this production, Eva is cunning, manipulative and driven, making ample use of her good looks, acting skills and social savvy to take herself to the top of the heap, and the show’s iconic number, ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’, with it’s double-edged lyrics about triumph and self-pity, truth and political spin.
The choreography is exceptionally well presented throughout by a talented cast, but the chorus really shines through in the large numbers, bringing a welcome cartoonish energy to the production contrasting the spectacle of high-society with the grounded reality of the impoverished descamisados (shirtless ones).
Evita runs in the Bord Gais Energy Theatre from 6-17 June 2017. Tickets here.
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