Thoughts on Evita – The Musical

What: Evita – the Musical
Where: State Theatre, The Arts Centre

Performances run until 23 February, 2019
For more information, please visit www.evitathemusical.com.au

It’s difficult to critic a musical like Evita when it remains relatively unchanged since it premiered on London’s West End in 1978. Based on the concept album by Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics), and conceptualised for stage by American theatrical producer and director, Harold Prince; the musical follows the real-life story of actress-turned-Argentine political leader Eva Perón (played by Tina Arena), the second wife of Argentine president Juan Perón (Tony award-winner, Paulo Szot).

I went in with little prior knowledge or interest in the story, but once I delved into her history (prior to seeing the musical), I understood why she lived a life so extraordinary. Although I don’t necessarily think the musical captured her drive and ambition entirely as much as it could have. At times, we’re left questioning Eva’s motives and why we should root or care about this obvious man-eater. Actually, for the most part, all the characters have their negative traits and are essentially unlikeable.

Evita is clearly well thought out and a professional and well-polished production. But with the large budget I suspect they’re working it, at times, the show could rival an amateur theatre production. A positive for those craving a less excessive production compared to other shows on offer; but its sparse staging will leave others feeling a little underwhelmed.

Perhaps we’ve been spoilt by elaborate musicals in Melbourne – and this certainly is a point of difference – but I kept wanting more – larger sets, added detail and extra colour. I don’t think a minimalistic approach is a bad thing if done well, but even if large ensemble numbers like A New Argentina, where the cast flooded the stage, the large stage still felt under-utilised. The transitions too seem clunky. As the stage fades to black after most numbers, the crew scramble to move in the next set piece. The abrupt ending is also quite jarring.

Those unfamiliar may find the timeline a little confusing as events pass by quickly, when historically this isn’t the case as the musical begins with Eva at fifteen until her death at age 33. While Tina Arena certainly handles the vocal demands and emotional beats of the role (and with all due respect to her performance, which I cannot fault) casting a younger actress would have been a smarter choice to emphasis how much she accomplished at such a young age. I suspect the producers are banking on a star name, and that’s fine, but the musical can’t rely on that alone.

On the positive, there are some laughs and no weak performances. Kurt Kansley as the narrator, Che, is a stand-out. Even though he has no real historical reason to be there, he’s vital in guiding you through the story. Melbourne-born Alexis van Maanen also shines as Perón’s mistress and during her rendition of Another Suitcase in Another Hall. Following Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, I personally enjoyed the vocals on Rainbow High the best.

The show is also at the disadvantage of its non-catchy and forgettable soundtrack. Apart from Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, few people could recite the show’s repertoire. You won’t leave the theatre humming its tunes, but you’ll exit examining your own life and legacy, questioning your political leaders and be compelled to research the Peróns.

Larry Fuller’s choreography is unique and inventive. Costume design injects much-needed colour and suits the period. But it’s Duncan’s McLean’s clever use of the big screen and projection that adds that extra layer of set refinement.

While I understand this is very much the 70s production (with the inclusion of You Must Love Me, which was written for Madonna for the film of the same name), personally I think the show would have benefited from being updated, modified and changed for an twenty-first century audience. Nowadays we’re so over-saturated with visuals. This is a word-driven musical, which will polarise audiences and possibly turn younger audiences away.

I enjoyed it a more than I thought I would, but it is by no means a perfect production.

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