The Theatreguide.London Review
The lady is back, and better than ever. Michael Grandage's thirtieth-anniversary revival of the groundbreaking Rice-Webber musical about Eva Peron is in almost every way superior to the original.
Put another way, the production is so good it actually makes the show seem good.
The original production, staged by Harold Prince at the peak of his grand-scale period, was flashy and exciting, filled with visual images and inventive direction that stick in the mind three decades later. But it was soulless, overpowering the performers and reducing them to mannequins.
I remember thinking at the time that if the vocals had all been prerecorded and the stage populated by robots, you'd hardly notice the difference.
Grandage has made it all life-size, and as a result we can see the actual people and even care for them. We can see the performers as characters, and not just icons. And so songs that we know by heart can be acted fresh, as if for the first time, and affect us as if we had not heard them before. (Did you ever imagine you could be moved to tears by Don't Cry For Me Argentina? My normally clear-headed companion was.)
As Evita, Elena Roger is a major discovery. She sings beautifully, moves sensually, dances as well as the chorus members (no small praise, that), and acts her songs evocatively. She makes Eva Peron a real woman, cold-hearted and clear-minded on her way up, touchingly broken on her way down. If I didn't quite weep at her dying reprise of Don't Cry For Me, I was moved by Waltz For Eva And Che, the surprisingly sweet moment in which she acknowledges her mortality.
Balancing this newly humanised Eva is Matt Rawle's Che, stripped of some of the politically-charged anger of previous incarnations, and allowed to be an attractively realistic and ironic observer, more of a real person and less of a mere narrative device.
The role of Peron is a pretty thankless one, but Philip Quast gives him subtle touches of uncertainty and insecurity that humanise him as well. One of my very few disappointments with this revival is that Lorna Want as Peron's previous mistress does not make as much of Another Suitcase Another Hall (in my mind the best song in the show) as I could want.
There are minor losses. By making the show less of a pageant and spectacle and more of a musical drama, director Grandage, along with designer Christopher Oram and choreographer Rob Ashford, have homogenised it a bit. It is now a very, very good musical but also a conventional one.
I will remember and admire the inventive way Hal Prince staged Peron's military rise longer than Grandage's, and original choreographer Larry Fuller's way of moving the aristocracy and the army around the stage longer than Rob Ashford's.
Consider the best dance sequence in the show, Buenos Aires. It is a hot-hot-hot production number and Elena Roger dances up a storm. But it is also rather generic - a few minor changes in the lyrics and it could be the opening number of Forty-Second Street, Thoroughly Modern Millie or any other girl-comes-to-the-city musical.
In making Evita a better musical than it ever was before, the new team have paradoxically made it a little more ordinary.
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Review - Evita - Adelphi 2006