Theatre: Evita

There is something about the audience at Evita, the new version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical hit from 30 years ago which reminded me of the audience at a dreadful Elaine Paige concert I happened to see in 2004. There was a certain age and a certain style about the people. They didn't look like they were regular theatre goers but they would go to this. I wondered where the hell they bussed this audience in from. I am not exactly a fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals (nor Elaine Paige) so it did dawn on me what the hell I was doing at this show. Well it probably was the promise that it was to be a new look at a (tired, dated, sanctimonious) old show.

As for what was new in this show… Well there were new orchestrations, but for the most part they sounded more like the ring tones on my mobile phone. Unusually for a Lloyd Webber show, the set didn't fly in or out in spectacular fashion or be projected oddly (although there was one exception for Don't Cry For Me Argentina the balcony started to extend out for some sort of dramatic effect that I didn't quite understand the point of). These were all good things.

This new production also got something else right. Amongst some of the most hideous music ever to be inflicted on an audience in a popular musical and some very scary dancing involving soldiers prancing about, there were the three leads. These were Elena Roger (Evita), Philip Quast (Peron) and Matt Rawle (Che), and they could all act, dance and sing.

Actually Roger, a lovely petite Argentine actress couldn't hit the screechy bizarre high notes that the role calls for but she gave such a star performance that it was easy to overlook this. Some of the other audience members were not so forgiving and during the interval were hissing to each other "Oh she's not as good as Elaine!" The chemistry between her and Quast was pretty good as well, even if he was twice her size.

I had been forewarned that Rawle lacked the charisma for such a key role as Che. But I thought he was not bad. Part of the problem with him however was that he was made to look like some Arts undergraduate in between lectures bumming about. Thirty years ago the audiences may have been dull enough not to know who Che Guevara was, but the production could have taken some cues from the V&A exhibition which highlights what a dominating figure Che now is in pop culture, and fashioned him to suit this. But at least Rawle could sing and do it rather well.

So it was a night of great actors in a not-so-great show. A show also written in a time when subtlety was not in fashion. Tim Rice's lyrics seemed to constantly use naughty words such as "bitch" and "slut" and "tarts" just in case you missed the previous song which also underlined that Eva Peron slept her way to the top.

If you do find yourself at the Adelphi over the summer, I would advise that a good stiff drink in the interval will help enjoy the second half of the show. After all Evita will die before the curtain comes down, but it will feel like an awful long time for that to happen. I lost interest after the money rolling in or out song and was just hoping she would DIE! Unfortunately before she does die there are too many prancing soldiers and banal songs to endure it sober. One can only hope that Roger, Quast and Rawle do more work in the West End in future however, just not in Evita. It should be remembered as a Madonna movie, not a revival…

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