Phoenix Theatre, London – until 14 October 2017
Guest reviewer: Bella Stone
Evita plays a 12-week season at the West End’s Phoenix Theatre, poignantly marking the 65th anniversary of the death of Eva Peron. The musical documents the true story of Eva, wife of Argentinian dictator Juan Peron, from her modest teenage years to her life of riches, and being hailed as a ‘saint’ by the people of Argentina.
In my opinion, Evita is one of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s most epic scores. Songs like ‘Rainbow High’ and ‘Don’t cry for me Argentina’ largely constitute to the image of modern musical theatre today, and their show filled the Phoenix Theatre beautifully, with their songs given justice by a brilliant cast and rousing orchestrations by Webber and David Cullen.
The choreography of the show, by Bill Deamer, is exquisite. His ability to create the atmosphere of Argentinian culture through his staging of songs such as ‘Buenos Aires’ was effortless, bringing in aspects of typical Spanish dancing into his already sharp and dynamic choreography. This works beautifully in collaboration with the direction of Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright, who also produces the show. Intimate scenes move smoothly into big ensemble numbers, and although the show evolves around Eva, the relationship between her and Juan still stays at the forefront of the piece, unforgotten amidst the rise in her power.
Emma Hatton, who stars as Evita, is what can only be described as phenomenal and it is undoubtedly her show. Her vocals are stunning, effortlessly belting the top notes in ‘Rainbow High’ as if they were written for her to sing. She is feisty, showing true strength as Argentina’s First Lady with a drive to succeed. At times, she appears ruthless, most prominently when we see Eva kick out Juan’s former mistress (Sarah O’Connor) in order to take her place, actively pushing her out and forcing her onto the streets, a scene Hatton plays with unshakeable strength. Yet Hatton brings a great vulnerability to the part of Eva, a side to the character that can easily be buried beneath her seemingly hard exterior.
We see the loneliness of Eva, beautifully bought to life by Tomson and Kenwright’s direction of a gala where, upon being left alone to mingle for a while by her husband, she finds herself being unable to talk to the women as they look down on her for not coming from the same social status, and also being unable to engage in political discussions with the men due to her sexuality. In this time of isolation, we are shown through Eva that power and fame do not necessarily equate happiness. Another standout moment in the show for Hatton, comes when we see Eva fall deeply ill with little hope of returning to her former strong and independent self, she sings ‘You Must Love Me’. We see Eva centre stage in the arms of Juan Peron, played by Kevin Stephen-Jones, stripped of her glamour, diamonds, furs and impeccable make up. Instead we see a broken woman, almost child like, bare-faced and in tears as she clings on to her life, ironically, the one thing she seems unable to control. Hatton at this moment has the audience in the palm of her hands, you could hear a pin drop as she comes to the realisation that her husband must truly love her if he remains by her side on her weakest days and not just when she is his strongest political asset.
Stephen-Jones shone as the continually supportive Peron. His ability to show strength as the leader of Argentina, but also deep compassion towards Eva in her dying days, gave the character a strong sense of humanity to accompany the powerful delivery of his leadership role. It was beautiful to watch a relationship that started as lust from Juan, and an ambition to succeed from Eva, turn into such a strong love and emotional bond, formed on their mutual dependency on each other, bought to life by Hatton and Stephen-Jones’ wonderful chemistry on stage. Special mention must also go to Gian Marco Schiaretti’s Che, who as the narrator, guided us through the life of Eva with charisma and an epic voice, his vocal gymnastics showcased beautifully in the number ‘And the Money Kept Rolling In’.
Photo Credit Pamela Raith
To conclude, this production of Evita is a definite must-see. It is hard to believe that this is a touring production, as everything from the set to the cast seem to be made for the Phoenix Theatre stage. The epic ensemble numbers juxtaposed by the intimate moments between Eva and Juan Peron, gives this show a multiplicity of dimensions, and I have no doubt it will have every success, yet again, in London’s West End.
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