A moving portrait of one of Argentina’s most beloved political figures.
There are always two sides to every story. And by definition, it is the winners who get to decide which one will go down in the annals of history.
In Evita, it is beloved Argentinian political figure Eva Peron whose life comes under scrutiny. Known for her rise in power from a humble provincial girl to famed actress to eventual Argentinian First Lady, Eva Peron was also respected for her ability to connect with the everyman, as a woman of charity and proponent of women’s suffrage. But at the same time, Eva’s motivations are questioned, attributed to a hunger for power and fortune, as well as being the wife of military colonel Juan Peron, whose controversial, iron-fisted leadership was often unfavourably compared to that of Mussolini and rumoured to have forcibly disposed of any political dissidents who stood in his way.
From its opening scenes, Evita already sets itself up for a rather sombre, serious mood with the announcement of Eva Peron’s death. Evita is heavy on the content, essentially jam packing Eva Peron’s entire life into its two hour runtime, and it can be difficult to follow at times as they shift from event to event, unless you already know the musical or you’ve done your research beforehand. However, buoyed by strong performances and arresting visuals (a screen displaying footage of the actual Perons helps lend authenticity to the numbers), Eva’s story becomes an epic, roller-coaster journey of a celebrity’s life anyone would be hungry to get to the bottom of.
At the heart of Evita, is of course, an actress who can capably play the eponymous character, bringing with her all the complexities, facets and change that come with the role. Luckily for us, Emma Kingston (who was handpicked by Andrew Lloyd Webber himself, alongside director Hal Prince and lyricist Tim Rice) is without a doubt the perfect casting choice for Eva Peron. Kingston stands out amongst the entire cast, with crisp, clear vocals that make her every word a command as she sings ‘You Must Love Me’, able to handle both forceful rock numbers like “A New Argentina” with a strength and urgency to her voice, and temper that with a celestial grace as she addresses her people at the height of her power in “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”.
Kingston’s performance takes us on a journey, embodying Eva at each and every stage of her life and perfectly captures her fervent, youthful energy transforming into sultry man-eater in “Good Night and Thank You” as she rises through the ranks before showing her vulnerabilities and fear of losing that power in Act II, culminating in an emotional swansong with “Eva’s Final Broadcast” as we watch her frail body collapse. Even if you had no inkling of who Eva Peron was before this, Kingston will make you revere her in all her glory and capture your heart with her moving performance.
No star is complete without a strong supporting cast, and surrounding her are narrator and naysayer Che (Jonathan Rouxmouth), attempting to undermine her every action to prove “she did nothing” and husband Peron (Robert Finlayson), whose demeanour straddles between charming leader and imposing dictator. Even minor characters Magaldi (Anton Luitingh) and Juan Peron’s mistress (Isabella Jane) are capable performers, each given their time to shine in “On This Night of a Thousand Stars” and “Another Suitcase In Another Hall” respectively.
Conductor Louis Zurnamer leads a fantastic orchestra, whose sounds fill the space of Mastercard Theatres, adding depth to the performances and feeling almost alive with the way it matches the cast’s actions perfectly. There is plenty to marvel at for Evita, and almost every single technical element primes the production for success. The slanted stage tilts the action towards the audience so that one can see every action performed, while lights have been installed on the floor of the stage to illuminate dancers from the bottom up, lending an even more dramatic aspect to the dance sequences when coupled with the overhead lights. And of course, there are plenty of visually stunning scenes as well, in particular, “A New Argentina” as banners highlighting the revolution fall from the ceiling, and cast members emerge from the wings bearing actual torches, forceful and determined in their every movement as they call for a new age for their nation.
Meanwhile, Larry Fuller’s original choreography remains a classic, and works to serve Evita well, capturing the essence of Argentina in its Latin American inspired dances. Helmed by resident choreographer Duane Alexander, mass numbers such as “Buenos Aires” and “And The Money Kept Rolling In (And Out)” keep the energy high in between slower portions of the show, while the tango performed in “I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You” acts as the perfect complement and visual aid to Eva and Peron’s first meeting at Luna Park, moving through their cautious flirting into full fledged passion through the dancers’ movements alone. Sequences such as the musical chair-styled “The Art of the Possible” make an otherwise boring topic into one that is visually tense, and one that the audience wants to see through to the end.
Evita may be a forty year old musical, but it’s one that feels surprisingly relevant even today, with divisive cults of personality still forming in countries’ political scenes all around the world. As to whether Eva Peron was mere figurehead or a true queen of the Argentinian masses, it’s a question that remains open-ended even at the end of the musical. But if Kingston’s performance is anything to go by, then you will more than likely be standing with Team Peron at the end of the night, and fall in love with Evita as she sings and dances her way straight into our hearts.
Photo Credit: Christiaan Kotze
Performance attended 27/2/18
We’re giving away tickets to catch Evita! All you have to do is as follows:
The lucky winners will be informed via Facebook.
Evita runs from 23rd February – 4th March 2018 at Mastercard Theatres. Tickets available from SISTIC.