By Ray Bennett
LONDON – Fans of the 1980s musical “Evita” who feared the long-running West End and Broadway hit had been sunk forever by the Madonna film version will be delighted to hear that it has re-emerged in a smashing new stage production.
The multiple Tony Award-winning show, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, looks sleek and pertinent under the direction of Michael Grandage. It also boasts a brand new star in Buenos Aires native Elena Roger, who knocks the Argentine socks off the title role.
Imposing sets by Christopher Oram give full rein to Rob Ashford’s invigorating choreography and Roger is backed by a sterling cast including Philip Quast as a robust Peron and Matt Rawle as the ingratiating narrator Che.
Roger, who is tiny, looks the part as Eva is introduced as a gullible small-town dancer with dreamy ambitions but as she hits the big-time, she bursts out as the kind of enticing and full-throated temptress that can lead a horse to water and make it drink.
A shrewd opportunist, Eva goes through men at a stunning pace until she identifies soon-to-be dictator Juan Peron as the perfect sap. Their rapacious ambitions mesh and for a while they are embraced by the gullible and hungry masses of Argentina until their eventual and inevitable fall.
The story is told in song and some of Lloyd Webber’s most appealing melodies are blessed with what are surely Rice’s finest lyrics. Titles such as “I’d be Surprisingly Good For You,” “The Art of the Possible,” “High Flying, Adored” and the mega-hit “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” reflect Rice’s incisive wit and judicious way with words.
One or two things have been taken from Alan Parker’s film including his decision to make the narrator generic rather than an incarnation of revolutionary Che Guevera. He still provides the balance for Eva’s adulation and several of his songs are deeply critical of her manipulative acceptance of idolatry. Rawle makes the character very appealing and also provides a contrast to Quast’s more reserved Peron.
Roger gives poignancy to the Oscar-winning song “You Must Love Me,” introduced in the film version, while the regretful ballad “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” which Madonna’s Eva sang in the film, is returned to Peron’s mistress and sung captivatingly by Lorna Want.
In a run already extended by three months into 2007, this revival is a reminder of what a sturdy musical “Evita” is and, with its mix of high ambition and cynical politics, how it remains ever topical.
Venue: Adelphi Theatre, London (running through Jan. 13); Credits: Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber; Lyrics: Tim Rice; Director: Michael Grandage; Orchestrations: Andrew Lloyd Webber, David Cullen; Musical supervisor: Simon Lee; Choreographer: Rob Ashford; Production designer: Christopher Oram; Lighting designer: Paule Constable; Sound designer: Mick Potter. Cast: Eva: Elena Roger; Peron: Philip Quast; Che: Matt Rawle; Magaldi: Gary Milner; Mistress: Lorna Want; Alternate Eva: Abbie Osmon.
This review appeared in The Hollywood Reporter