Theatre Royal Plymouth
Evita by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber
2 hours 20 minutes – one interval
Theatre Royal Plymouth Box Office – 01752 267222
Cormac Richards – 14 August 2018
Evita was very much a Tim Rice pet project. Andrew Lloyd Webber had not been interested in writing a show about the Argentinian First Lady and had got stuck into his show ‘Jeeves’, a collaboration with Alan Ayckbourn. When ‘Jeeves’ bombed with critics and public alike, Lloyd Webber licked his wounds and revisited working with Rice on the project.
What started off as a concept album in 1976, it became a West End show in 1978 and became a worldwide hit. All this with major reservations about the subject matter from the composer. In his recent, rather excellent, first volume of autobiography, ‘Unmasked’, Lloyd Webber says “Eva had such ghastly values I couldn’t see how to make the audience care about her; more importantly should I make an audience care?” And there in lies my issue with the show. A tragic short life certainly, but there is, on the face of it, little to admire about Eva Peron. Indeed, the narrative device that is depicted as Che Guevara does little but criticise her and condemn her actions. This all makes for a very curious piece of theatre. Not often is the central figure being celebrated have so few virtues.
Within the two hours of the show, you are whisked through the life of the young, carefree Eva until her death from cancer at the age of just 33. You have to be on your mettle to follow all the cultural, social and political threads to the story as there is a lot to take in. The achievement here is the writing and the eclectic score which takes on a South American vibe in between jazz and operatic vignettes. The sung-through show is full of witty lyrics and clever phrasing – Rice’s best work?
This production has been on the road, on and off, for 10 years or so – I last saw it in 2008 – and it is a very solid, impeccably put together show with excellent production values. There is no doubt that the role of Eva is incredibly demanding and Lucy O’Byrne is more than up to the challenge both in the singing and the acting stakes. It is her show and she is tremendous. The very experienced Glenn Carter is equally good as Che – such a strange role in the show – the disconnected narrator. Mike Sterling provided a solid and beautifully voiced Peron – he filled the large auditorium with ease. Oscar Balmaseda was wonderful as Magaldi and Cristina Hoey provided a vulnerable Mistress, with ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’ providing a usual high point which she sang with great sensitivity. Elsewhere the cast were universally excellent and were backed up by a first rate band.
Evita is such a curious show. I cannot love it unconditionally, but I do like it a lot. This production does everything right from the excellent opening at the cinema and Eva’s funeral to the iconic balcony singing of ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ at the start of Act II. If you have never seen the show before then you should see this production.
Eva – Lucy O’Byrne
Che – Glenn Carter
Peron – Mike Sterling
Mistress – Cristina Hoey
Magaldi – Oscar Balmeseda
Ensemble – Emanuel Alba, Verity Burgess, Callum Fitzgerald, Riva Grant, Bethan Jacks, Samuel John-Humphreys, Joe McCourt, Benjamin McMillan, Chrissie Perkins, Kate Shearman, Olver Slade, Chris Stoddart, Michael Ward, Kirsty Whelan, Yuval Zoref
Ensemble Children – Plymkids Theatre Company
Lyrics – Tim Rice
Music – Andrew Lloyd Webber
Director – Bob Tomson
Director/Producer – Bill Kenwright
Choreographer – Bill Deamer
Designer – Matthew Wright
Musical Director – Anthony Gabriele
Lighting Designer- Tim Oliver
Sound Designer – Dan Samson