Review of Evita at the Dominion Theatre
I’d somehow managed to get through life without ever seeing EVITA prior to the press night of this production, a touring version that’s been enhanced to play a short season at the Dominion Theatre before White Christmas moves in for the festive season. As a geeky teenager, obsessed with theatre I did listen to the soundtrack in my bedroom a lot so was very excited to see whether it lived up to my expectations.
It’s an account of the life of Eva who scrabbled her way up from poverty to become the first lady of Argentina, marrying the politician Juan Peron. Together they ruled the country with an iron grip. He ruthlessly suppressed opposition whilst she dazzled the population with her glamour and apparent benevolence. Or that’s what’s portrayed in the musical. There’s a very interesting and angry thread of comments proceeding Michael Billington’s review on The Guardian website which contests this version of events, however as Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s perspective is what you get should you book I’m sticking with that for the purposes of this review.
The pair had enjoyed phenomenal success with their previous shows Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat and Jesus Christ Superstar when they chose this as their next subject. Anticipation was whipped up to fever pitch when they first introduced the world to EVITA by releasing it as a concept album which rocketed three of the songs into the charts, Don’t Cry for me Argentina (A most unlikely pop hit which portrays the heroine appealing to the people for love after her rise to power) Another Suitcase in Another Hall (in which Peron’s former mistress is thrown out) and Oh What a Circus (David Essex as rebel Che Guevara deriding her funeral) Unusually for such a hyped show it didn’t disappoint and it launched the career of its first two Evitas, Elaine Page in London and Patti Lupone in new York. Both productions enjoyed long runs and it’s been revived regularly ever since, most notably by Michael Grandage who cast Ricky Martin as Che on Broadway and an Argentinean actress, Elena Roger, in the title role.
The chemistry between Che and Evita is pivotal to the piece. He’s our narrator. They’re both “of the people” but he dedicated his life to freedom fighting whilst she pursued her own advancement. They’re both young, beautiful and virile and sexual chemistry should sizzle through their surface hatred. There’s a lot of seats to sell at the Dominion so the producer has been obliged to cast a celebrity, Marti Pellow, former lead singer of pop group Wet Wet Wet, in the male lead rather than a skilled performer. This is rather unfortunate because Pellow has very little stage presence, acting or singing ability so that’s one aspect of the evening that definitely doesn’t deliver.
Madelena Alberto as Evita is terrific. She achieves the almost impossible, making the oft performed Don’t Cry for Me seem fresh and engaging in her spotlight.
Madelena Alberto as Evita is terrific though. Even without an adversary to spark off she dazzles and achieves the almost impossible, making the oft performed Don’t Cry for Me seem fresh and engaging in her spotlight. My seats were quite far back in the cavernous stalls so whether she brought any extra nuance to the less brightly lit sections I was too far away to make out. She always sounded great though.
Other successful performances include Ben Forster as a suave and commanding Peron and Matthew Cammelle as Magaldi, a crooner who’s Eva’s first lover and who always seems to turn up on the sidelines at every stage of her rise to power. There’s a very telling line when she’s presented on Peron’s arm at a reception where he’s singing. “Your act hasn’t changed much” She quips. “Neither has yours” he replies.
There’s also great choreography and crowd scenes, exquisitely costumed to evoke the sweaty mass of dancers in the night clubs and the elegance of the ruling elite and despised British. There’s also a chilling sequence in which Peron’s rivals are arbitrarily dispatched with sacks over their heads never to be seen again. The big picture is always immaculately presented.
Treat yourself to a good seat near the front [...] and you’ll enjoy a classy evening of glittering musical theatre that deserves to be back in the West End.
That’s the only drawback to experiencing this rich and fascinating musical in this production. It delivers all the spectacle you could wish for on the vast stage with a constantly shifting panorama of archways, bill boards and staircases but the human aspect is dwarfed by the grand scale and huge auditorium that reduces faces to blobs in the distance. But treat yourself to a good seat near the front, ignore the underwhelming Marti Pellow, and you’ll enjoy a classy evening of glittering musical theatre that deserves to be back in the West End.