It’s not the most appealing subject for a musical: a story about a Machiavellian couple who it’s nearly impossible to have any empathy with or feel any sympathy for.
But Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s follow-up to Jesus Christ Superstar won both the Olivier and Tony for best musical and made Elaine Paige a star. It has become one of their most enduring works, certainly in terms of revivals and tours.
This production is stopping off at the Phoenix Theatre for a limited 12-week run before continuing its tour of the UK. For the ad men who have to sell it, the season fits conveniently with the 65th anniversary of Eva Peron’s death, but in reality the run has more to do with the unexpected early closure of Gary Barlow’s musical The Girls. Barlow’s loss is certainly our gain because this is no stopgap filler to get bums on seats in the tourist season, but a slick and classy production with a stunning central performance by Emma Hatton.
Eva Duarte is born illegitimately into poverty and lives in a small town a 100 miles from Buenos Aires. Determined to make it as an actress, young Eva will use anyone and stop at nothing to reach her goal. Existing on the fringe of Buenos Aires society, she finds a kindred spirit in Juan Peron, an ambitious colonel who is equally uncompromising in his pursuit of political power. By the time Juan becomes president, Eva — who is now his wife — has manipulated the couple’s image to the extent that she is regarded as almost a religious figure.
Hatton captures perfectly the allure that make men fall under Eva’s spell, but all the while there’s a steely coldness behind the eyes as each new notch on the bedpost means another rung up the social ladder. And she sings up a storm, both leading the accomplished ensemble on the lively Buenos Aires and draining every inch of emotion, but not over-egging, the show’s seminal number Don’t Cry for Me Argentina — although the ending is thrown away when the sound of a cheering crowd drowns out the appreciation of the real audience.
Gian Marco Schiaretti as Che (All photography by Pamela Raith)
There is also a thoroughly winning turn from the charismatic and infuriatingly handsome Gian Marco Schiaretti as Che, who stalks the stage like a one-man Greek chorus questioning the motives of the Perons and showing how they really achieved their power. The role of Che has often let down touring productions, but Schiaretti gives the role a gravitas and brings a whole new dimension to the show with his superb delivery of Rice’s witty lyrics.
Kevin Stephen-Jones brings feeling to the rather static role of Peron and there’s a delightful cameo by Sarah O’Connor as the mistress shown the door by Eva when she moves in with Peron. She sings the show’s other standout number Another Suitcase in Another Hall.
Evita is at the Phoenix Theatre until 14 October then continues its UK tour