Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park, London – until 21 September 2019
At last, someone has laid the sugary ghost of Elaine Paige. Jamie Lloyd’s stripped-back Evita at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park has all the metallic modernity of their Jesus Christ Superstar with a rawness and street style that brings you closer if not to ‘the heart of Peron’ then to the brawling power grab that saw him first elected President of Argentina in 1946.
On a cold grey flight of Odessa-style steps by Soutra Gilmour with blinding lights beaming behind them, the fantastic ensemble works up a sequence of storms in its production numbers, sharply choreographed by Fabian Aloise avoiding both tango clichés and military marching.
Samantha Pauley’s Eva spends the show onstage in her underwear or a silk slip, raven hair cascading over tan shoulders. As she fixes her gaze firmly on the handsome well-connected soldier and starts her inexorable social climb, you can see Evita as the Meghan Markle of Buenos Aires.
The band – walled up behind welded letters spelling out EVITA – relishes the orchestrations, and the big numbers come over with both bravura and finesse, harmonies are clear and balanced despite their pop video energy. ‘Don’t Cry for Me’ – incidentally the actual words carved on Eva’s tomb in Recoleta cemetery – is neatly redeemed from its sentimental anthem status by Pauley’s fresh and understated rendition.
‘They fired those cannon, sang lamentation’ go the lyrics, and that’s religiously underlined with explosive pyrotechnics, showering the audience with confetti, and filling the space with coloured smoke.
Up to the interval, you’re fully caught up with the rise and rise of Eva, the romance with Peron, and as Che Guevara – in a magnificent London debut like a mix of Jesus and Russell Brand – Trent Saunders’ sardonic observations of the populist movement.
Afterwards, when Eva’s health deterioriates and the politics fall apart, the relentlessly through-sung lyrics struggle to keep up and you might wonder if it’s time to scrap Rice and Lloyd Webber’s operatic pretentions from 1978 and swap the recitative for some sharper script to move the show along more briskly.
Eva’s actual success was to rid Argentina of its financially draining foreign yoke, and in the final populist celebrations with turquoise and white balloons and T-shirts you’re fleetingly amused that the Argentine national colours are also those of the Brexit Party.
Fortunately, Ektor Rivera as an atypically youthful Peron, is much more handsome than Nigel Farage.
until September 21
‘You’re fully caught up with the rise & rise of Eva’ in @lloydjamie’s stripped-down reimagining of @OfficialEvita at @OpenAirTheatre, says @johnnyfoxlondon ★★★★. #OATEvita #Evita