Evita (ACM) – theatre review

Tina Arena (Chicago) excels as the ill-fated Eva Perón in the revival of Evita at Arts Centre Melbourne. Acclaimed Brazilian operatic baritone Paulo Szot is her husband, Argentinian president Juan. Bringing the threads together as an energetic narrator is Kurt Kansley (The Lion King) as Ché, who represents a cynical member of the public.

Also integral to the plot are Michael Falzon (We Will Rock You) as a tango singer and Eva’s first love, and newcomer Alexis van Maanen as Juan’s spurned mistress.

Photo: Jeff Busby

Eva Perón – aka Evita – died at age 33. In her short life, she was both a revered and reviled figure. She most certainly courted controversy.  The story tells of an impoverished woman who sets her sights on fame and fortune no matter the cost.

It starts in 1934 when 15-year-old Eva Duarte falls in love with a tango singer. She persuades him to take her with him from their provincial town to Buenos Aires. There she quickly leaves him and begins to sleep her way to the top, becoming a model, radio star and actress. Ambitious military man, Juan Domingo Perón is making his way up the political ladder. They meet at a charity concert, and soon move in together. Juan introduces Eva to high society.

But Eva is hardly embraced by the upper classes and the Argentine Army. She ploughs on regardless, confident in her husband’s ability to win the upcoming election. She organises rallies for the impoverished, giving them hope for better future. Juan and his allies ruthlessly dispose of anyone who dares stand in their way. He subsequently sweeps to power.

Evita opened in the West End in 1978 and on Broadway the following year. It won the Olivier Award for Best New Musical; and Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score (just three of eight Tonys it claimed in 1980).

Tina Arena’s finest moment in this production is undoubtedly the balcony scene, which starts the second act. Dressed in a stunning white ball gown, she modulates her voice, bringing a great deal of expressiveness, as she implores the masses with the iconic number “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”. Incidentally, Arena’s alternate in the show is the highly talented Jemma Rix (Wicked).

Notwithstanding the great passion, strength and agility in Kurt Kansley’s performance, Arena is the undoubted star and was suitably recognised at curtain call.

Photo: Jeff Busby

I particularly appreciated the dynamic closing number in the first act, “A New Argentina”. But the musical is, of course, punctuated by many memorable songs, including “On This Night of a Thousand Stars”, “You Must Love Me” and “High Flying, Adored”.

The stage is frequently dominated by a large video screen, with the live action supplemented by visual media of Argentina and Eva Perón.

Hal Prince directs this recreation of the original production, with choreography by Larry Fuller, and musical direction by Guy Simpson. Evita is playing at Arts Centre Melbourne until 17 February 2019.

Alex First

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