Saturday, 5 August 2017

REVIEW: Evita at the Phoenix Theatre

Many musicals centre around an iconic, strong woman. Dreamgirls has Effie White and Deena Jones, Phantom of the Opera has Christine, Miss Saigon has Kim, but none are as memorable as Eva Duarte in Evita. 

The story of Eva Duarte, a girl from Junin who wishes of a better life in Buenos Aires and through meeting the right man again and again taking on many careers: an actress, a model, a radio star etc; she climbs the career ladder. Eventually she meets an equally driven career politician, Juan Domingo Peron. They meet at a charity concert Peron has organised after an earthquake. It isn’t long until they marry. Eva becomes nationally loved and her husband politically successful when he becomes president of Argentina. 

Eva’s life is the epitome of Peronism as she tours the country on her rainbow tour to be struck with stomach pains and later die of cancer (not a spoiler it’s history). 

There is no doubt in my mind from what I saw on the stage of the Phoenix Theatre, the half standing ovation given at the end was deserved. Evita is a behemoth of a show but with its (almost) white-washed cast and English accents, this revival (which I was looking forward to after the 2012 Broadway revival) feels a little numb. I understand the use of the English accent in musical theatre when the piece is based in a non-english speaking country but now, when other revivals have pushed these old devices out, this rendition should have followed suite and pushed for more authenticity. 
The performing arts industry, over the past few years, has been called out for white-washing and in London, a city rife with diversity, this doesn’t help the cause of inclusive casting. 

Emma Hatton’s portrayal of Eva Duarte is a consistent one; however I think it missed the mark slightly and came across as cold and at times empty. I didn’t feel as if I was watching an ambitious girl climb the ladder using her feminine ways; it came across manipulative and later on in life sycophantic; I left the theatre disliking Evita and thus had no sympathy for her at the end of the show. Her voice sits nicely in the score but sounds strained in songs where her vocals need to be much higher. The highlight of her performance was the whole Rainbow Tour montage. Vocally on point with the power we’ve come to expect from Hatton. 

The sympathy of the piece really comes from our Peron, Kevin Stephen-Jones.
The love for Eva is evident from their first embrace to her dying breath. With silky lower notes filled with meaning he really felt like he was the heart of the piece when he sang ‘She is a diamond’. You really felt his vulnerability before Eva’s ultimate demise. 

Gian Marco Schiaretti’s portrayal of our narrator Che isn’t the most flattering. Firstly, Che comes across, not as an onlooker detailing and commenting on the life of Eva but as someone who doesn’t like her very much and isn’t painting a very nice picture of her - perhaps this combined with Hatton’s portrayal is why I ended up disliking her. Secondly Gian’s voice in the fist act is nasal, constricted and a little harsh on the eardrums. Reminiscent of a 90’s boyband in the first act his vocal quality evens out in the second act and becomes a little more investable, however this is too little too late. 

The Ensemble are phenomenal and there is no doubt they work hard on that stage portraying many different characters and carting on and off additional bits of set. 

This production quite honestly didn’t meet expectations. It really did feel like it harkened back to when it was first premiered in 1978. A (nearly) all white cast singing in English accents made this tour feel outdated, scared to take risks and so true to the original conceptualisation that it came across cold and empty. Add a splash of risk, shake up the casting with a sprinkling of authenticity and this tour could have been something special.

Evita runs at the Phoenix Theatre in London's west end until October 14th.

Review by James-Lee Campbell 

Rating: ★★★

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