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A CurtainUp London Review
The Donmar Warehouse's Artistic Director Michael Grandage directs this new production at the Adelphi Theatre in the Strand from where it has displaced Chicago. Grandage's production employs many more South American dance rhythms as inspiration for the newly composed choreography from Rob Ashcroft. It is only a decade since the film of Evita played cinemas with Madonna in the title role and the simmering Antonio Banderas as Che.
After many auditons the producers found their new star Elena Roger in Buenos Aires. Roger was familiar with archive film footage of the original Eva Peron. She is tiny and has a huge voice which belies her diminutive frame, and of course her Argentinian accent is authentic. Next to Philip Quast who plays Peron, she is so petite but as a couple his power and her sexual energy somehow works. The handsome Matt Rawle is Che, a man who can sing and act and look ruggedly handsome, all apparently without effort.
Grandage's production has kept the opening of archive film footage but lost the cinema setting. Instead the set switches to the exterior of a large stone church for the mourning scenes where mourners dance as couples like a dance marathon, where they are exhausted and only have each other for support. I suddenly found myself thinking about national outpourings of grief and hysteria and I remembered that other young blonde woman who died too young for whom the nation grieved.
The story switches to Eva's home town where she meets the singer Magaldi (Gary Milner), a suave lothario who fuck starts her career. The Latin rhythms of the Tango and Bossa Nova and Samba are there in his "On This Night of a Thousand Stars". There is a good contrast when Eva despatches her career ladder of lovers in "Goodnight and Thank You" sung with Che, and with the farewell song from Peron's young mistress "Another Suitcase in Another Hall, one of the prettiest tunes in the show. "The Art of the Possible" sees Peron eliminate the military opposition, the dance form is like an elaborate fight ritual as a pair of colonels circle, arms on each other's shoulders, stamping, until one knees the other for victory. The peasants, military and aristocrats sing the anti Eva song, "Peron's Latest Flame" which I remember as "Dangerous Jade" and are choreographed in a naturalistic Latin American style, very different from Hal Prince's My Fair Lady fashionista type set piece.
The Second Act sees Eva's big scene from the balcony. The stone set forms the impressive backdrop. Cleverly directed, peasants stand to the fore of the stage blocking the view so that when Eva enters in diamonds and a white net crinoline, the audience moves their heads craning to see this vision of loveliness. The show stopper "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" is a triumph.
While there are not many tunes in Evita and the best ones are all recycled, they are very hummable. The show's real originality lies in Tim Rice's witty and unexpected lyrics. This production sees the inclusion of "you Must Love Me", the song composed for the film. The orchestrations have been rewritten to incorporate Latin American dance rhythms.
Michael Grandage gets a moving performance out of Elena Roger in her wheelchair scenes. Evita's new star not only can sing but can act as well. Matt Rawle is sultry and moody with his slow rock numbers and Philip Quast sees all of Peron's military bluster reduced to helplessness in the face of his wife's cancer. Elena Roger and Michael Grandage's Evita deserve to find a big audience.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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