Edinburgh Playhouse, Edinburgh – until 11 February 2017
Evita returns to the Edinburgh Playhouse with more than a little starryness about the turns, to match the starry nature of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical. Bill Kenwright’s touring production, last seen at the Playhouse in February 2014, gives a strong sense of the operatic to the late seventies show. The bursts of rock music consciously jar with the solid drama of the story of the county girl who became the first lady of Argentina.
What this new tour has, that the previous one didn’t, is a full quota of hugely talented performers who are able to take on the major roles. Not to forget an extremely talented local youngster to take on one of the lesser ones too. In the title role, Emma Hatton is quite the most nuanced and vibrant Evita seen in Edinburgh for years. She does have form – she recently finished playing the role of Elphaba in the London West End production of Wicked – so it is not too unexpected that she has the vocal chops.
But she also brings all the necessary elements of frailty and drive to ensure that Eva Duarte is a fully rounded character. As the young girl from an impoverished family who sets out to ensnare touring tango singer Magaldi to take her with him Buenos Aires, she has both poise and an arrogant belief in her own abilities.
When she gets her lungs round the big numbers they thrum. And her first duet with Keven Stephen-Jones as a solidly poised Peron in I’d be Surprisingly Good For You is a real treat of ebb-and-flow as the balance between the two characters tips one way and then the other.
But in truth, Hatton’s ability to let rip is nowhere near as effective as those moments when she brings her voice right down to a whisper. In doing so, she has that remarkable ability to make the 3,000 capacity Playhouse feel like an intimate venue.
Also at the top of his game is Italian singer Gian Marco Schiaretti who takes on the role of Che, the narrator who provides continuity to the whole show with his acerbic, cynical asides. Schiaretti has the vocal depth and power to give the role the gravitas it deserves – while also providing a suitably well-toned physical appearance.
This sense of cynicism is crucial to the production, helping tease out the status of Evita herself and ensuring that she is never portrayed in absolute terms as either all good, or all bad.
Oscar Balmaseda has a great time as Magaldi, delivering his On This Night of a Thousand Stars with real authority. And becoming somewhat sheepish when his one-night stand with Eva is revealed. Sarah O’Connnor brings a sweet clarity to the role Peron’s mistress – thrown out on her ear when Eva gets her claws into him. O’connor’s Another Suitcase has all the drama and regret you would hope for.
If Act One is a nicely turned out piece of musical storytelling, Act Two opens with the kind of staging that leaves your eyes stinging in anticipation. Peron’s On the Balcony of the Casa Rosada is all anticipation yet it seems that everything is pretty much finished when Mark Howett’s lighting suddenly lets you know that more is to come and Eva enters for her stint on the balcony.
Which, of course, means Don’t Cry for me Argentina – a much over-played song and one which others have made their own. But for which Hatton shows her intelligence as a singer, finding and digging deep into its own internal drama.
In fact the whole sweep of emotion of Act Two is handled with great care by Hatton and Schiaretti, while the large cast provide tight – and tightly choreographed – support.
There’s a lovely highlight with Santa Evita, given a wonderful performance by a (sadly un-named) youngster from Mary Erskine school. But that never detracts from the declining arc of the final years of the still young Evita’s life, succumbing to human frailties of greed and arrogance, before her body gave out, and she died of cancer.