My plus one for the evening, a hardcore Evita fan who cites the 1996 film starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas as one of her favourite films (“of all time”) assured me I was in for a treat but aside from being able to warble a version of the iconic “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” I had to prior knowledge of the story of Evita or the history of it’s leading lady, Eva Perón.
With this in mind, it was with no preconceptions or expectation that I took my seat at the Regent Theatre to watch the acclaimed production musical from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice which first found its roots in 1976 after Tim Rice heard a section of a radio show about Eva in 1973.
Originally released on London’s West End in 1978, the rock opera biopic that tells the story of Argentine political leader Eva Perón, the second wife of Argentine president Juan Perón. The flourishing show won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Musical in 1979 and quickly debuted on Broadway just a year later earning itself a Tony Award for Best Musical, the first British musical to receive such an accolade.
The story of Eva’s early life, rise to power, charity work and eventual death is told entirely through music and lyrics that can range from sophisticated and complex to heart-breaking including “Buenos Aires”, “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’, ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’ and ‘Oh What a Circus’.
After finishing an acclaimed run on London’s West End at the Dominion Theatre, the show has taken to the road of the UK with Emma Hatton as Eva Perón, fresh from playing Elphaba Thropp in the West End production of Wicked and Italian newcomer to the UK stage, Gian Marco Schiarettian, as the role of Narrator. Finishing in Milton Keynes at the end of May 2017, the tour arrived at the Regent Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent on the 31st of January and will run until the 4th February.
“What’s new Buenos Aires?”, sings a young Eva Peron after arriving in the city with her lover, Tango singer Agustín Magaldi seeking fame and glory as an actress.
It’s clear from the early scenes that Eva is intent on making her dreams of notoriety reality and she soon leaves Magaldi to successfully sleep her way up the social ladder, becoming a model, radio star, and actress before meeting Colonel Juan Domingo Perón, an ambitious military colonel who was making his way up the Argentine political ladder at a charity concert. It’s there that Eva spots her chance for renowned fame within the concert by helping Perón rise to power with her on his arm as a force to be reckoned with.
Perón and Eva’s relationship is met with disdain from high society and the Argentine Army due to her “good time gal” reputation and even after Juan Domingo Perón’s sweeping victory to be elected president of Argentina in 1946 and Eva’s infamous addressing of her adoring public, Eva still fails to win the hearts of the military due to her strong headed demeanour.
In 1951, Eva announced her candidacy for the Peronist nomination for the office of Vice President of Argentina but after facing strong opposition from the military and bourgeoisie coupled with her battle with cancer/declining health, was ultimately forced her to withdraw her candidacy.
Emma Hatton is superb as Eva, especially during the iconic numbers of the show. She performs with a real sense of character and is emotionally engaging throughout, captivating the audience with almost identical gestures (the raised forefinger, both arms out to her adoring public). Hatton perfectly replicates Eva’s growth in power within Argentina in her performance and her subsequent demise of health which leads to her death at only 33 years of age.
Gian Marco Schiarettian brings a balance of cynicism and admiration to the role of Che who narrates the events that unfold from the opening scenes set in a cinema as the news of Eva’s death in announced to the public in 1952 and recounts her journey from different perspectives.
Perón’s mistress who is unceremoniously evicted from the house of her lover by an unsympathetic Eva gives a beautiful performance of ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’ which quickly became my favourite song in the show due to its raw emotion.
The live ensemble, energetic cast and sleek set design combined with impressive latin inspired choreography and strong vocal performances transforms the stage into 1940’s Argentina to tell the story of the First Lady of Argentina, Evita.
Fans of the iconic musical or film will love Bill Kenwright’s latest production and for those who, like myself, knew nothing of the story other than that song, the UK tour is the perfect way to discover a musical loved by many for more than 40 years.
Evita will run at the Regent Theatre until Saturday 4th February. Tickets are available online or at the box office.