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EVITA (Birmingham Hippodrome)

08-10-2009

Evita

Another stunning production of the Lloyd Webber musical about the Argentinian political idol, lapped up Terry Wills.

1978…Can it really be 31 years since ‘Evita the Musical’ based on the life of the second wife of Argentine dictator Juan Peron, first took London’s West End by storm and duplicated it’s success on Broadway?

Amazingly the time span is correct and down the years it’s been revived on numerous occasions, always with outstanding reviews, and providing lovers of Theatre musicals a splendid nights entertainment.

This current touring production falls into the same category. It’s powerful story line and outstanding songs, penned by the creative talents of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and partner Tim Rice again brings this fascinating, if extraordinary, story to life.

The original Prince Edward Theatre production starred Elaine Page as Eva, (after Julie Covington declined to play the role) Joss Ackland as Peron and David Essex as Che. It ran for eight years with the title role becoming one of the most sought after in the profession.

Subsequently among others it’s been played by Marti Webb, Stephanie Lawrence and Kathryn Evans, all well known respected leading ladies.

So what of the current touring production? Does it follow in the grand tradition can it possibly replicate the success of what has undoubtedly become an iconic show - -or will new audiences simply ‘see’ it as yet another musical?

The story in itself IS fascinating: tracing the story of an extraordinary young girl who’s determination to be an actress takes her to Buenos Aires where she becomes an established recognised Radio broadcaster.

At the same time a military regime seizes power led by Colonel Juan Peron. Never one to miss out on an opportunity to further her own ambitions she sets her eyes on the most powerful man in the country. From thereon before marrying the country’s most powerful man she becomes his acknowledged mistress.

Peron who has many enemies is forced to resign after a military coup but Eva stands by him and with her popularity now raised to a status of adulation she sets out to rally support for his release with the backing of the ordinary Argentinean people.

Mission completed and with Eva’s massive popularity Peron wins the Presidential election. She fronts a campaign of wide-ranging social work and in truth is the real power in Argentina.

She establishes a ‘Social Aid Foundation’. Raising money to help the poor, hospital’s and schools. But her life style suggested that money raised from what voluntary donations was being utilised for the Peron’s personal use.

Not everyone is impressed by the Peron’s domination over their country, either. But anyone who dares speak out in opposition or offers a challenge in any way suddenly and mysteriously disappears from the scene.

But one commodity that wealth cannot buy is good health, and while Eva’s popularity helps Peron to win a second term in office she succumbs to cancer leaving her people wailing in anguish, unable to believe their saviour was no more.

Rachael Wooding plays Eva. Mark Heenehan is Peron, with the role of Che Guevra (the orator) taken by Seamus Cullen, probably best known for reaching the final 10 in the BBC hit show ‘Any Dream will Do’.

The well known and loved songs include ‘Oh what a Circus’- ‘On this night of a Thousand Stars’ – ‘I’d be surprisingly good for You’-‘Another Suitcase Another Hall’ and of course the song most associated with this enduring musical ‘Don’t Cry for me Argentina’.

Rachael Wooding’s interpretation of the latter evoked genuine emotion among the audience, with more than a few dabbing their eyes as Eva’s life ebbed away. A stunning performance that must lead to future starring roles as she grows in maturity.

Mark Heenehan’s interpretation of Peron is also impressive and while Seamus Cullen could only hope his role of Che would appeal as much as that of Davis Essex in the original production, he nevertheless received a splendid ovation as the cast took their Curtain call.

The set itself was impressive - changing seamlessly from location to location with the scene inside the Cathedral, where Eva’s body lay in ‘state’ with thousands of people outside clamouring to get inside for a final glimpse of their ‘saviour’, bringing home just how she had dominated the lives of the ordinary people.

For those who know and love the story of Evita I would imagine they will enjoy this new production while for anyone unfamiliar with past productions, it gives a perfect opportunity to visit the Hippodrome to see for themselves this long running enduring show.

Oh yes an interesting finale to the story of Eva Peron more resembling fiction than fact.

On her death in 1952 she became a political pawn. So much so that her body was smuggled out of Argentina by the secret service, hidden among several identical coffins, then buried in Milan under a false name for 14 years.

In 1971 Juan Peron finally persuaded Franco to allow him to bring Eva’s body home, where it goes on display. Finally, Eva is laid to rest in an armoured vault in Recoleta Cemetery in Beunos Aires Buried deep underground, protected by guards, sophisticated locks and steel walls.

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