Thursday, 16 April 2009

Evita - Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Tim Rice
Director: Bob Thomson and Bill Kenwright

Reviewer: Jim Nicholson

Let me lay my cards on the table right from the start, Evita is my favourite Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and it is up there in my top ten shows of all time. So another touring version, so soon after the excellent Olivier Award winning Elena Roger took the West End by storm, meant I attended with some trepidation, could this staging and cast do such a great musical justice?

Well the good news for the Lloyd Webber / Rice combination is that “the money will still keep rolling in” especially as the casting director here has come up with a gem of a lead in Rachael Wooding. I was already a Rachael fan having seen her as Amber Von Tussle in “Hairspray”, Meatloaf in “We will Rock You” and Annette in “Saturday Night Fever”, the first two of these highlighting the comedy side of her talent. Well she is simply sensational here and possesses one hundred percent of the “star quality” that the Eva role demands. Her delivery of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”, her control of “Buenos Aires”, her tenderness in “You Must Love Me” and the sheer bloody mindedness of “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You” are just some of the examples of how she dominates the stage and show alike. I have seen Elaine Paige, Marti Webb, Elena Roger amongst others play this lead and I can happily report that Miss Wooding is there alongside the very best.

Che is played by, “Too old to be” Joseph finalist, Seamus Cullen, he of “smiley face and curly hair”. Although he sings pleasantly enough there is a real weakness in the lack of attitude and abrasiveness that his character shows and this therefore fails to generate the extreme tension that should exist between Eva, the Peron regime and Che.
The Migaldi role appears to have been decided by a “Liverpool Star – Search for a Star” competition with James Waud ending up the winner. At least four years at the Liverpool Theatre School means he can sing and he can act.

Mark Heenahan is a smooth, fast moving Peron with a fantastically clear singing voice that means you can feel the real meaning in the superb lyrics Tim Rice has written for this role, but unfortunately the Director has chosen to lose the side by side “shirt sleeved” comradeship between Peron and the “man on the street”.

The overall production has some very elegant and eye catching sets and this is no better highlighted than at the Casa Rosada, although once again we lose the link with the peasants as Eva appears to bear her soul from the balcony to the “toffs” down below rather than the working class that are the real recipients of her “never left you” plea. That said she does deliver that message with some style.

The choreography keeps close to previous versions with boxed movements and marching lines but is very slick and feeds into the hatred the gentry and military have for our Latin heroin. I can not end without mentioning the child who delivered “Santa Evita”, although the young girl is not named in the programme the Stagecoach School of Salisbury and Downton have a star in the making and coaches Claire Hodges and Linda Cameron have unearthed a ten year old destined for a “high flying, adored” future.

This is a must see show, it may not be the best ever staging but there is plenty of quality on display and the 11 piece orchestra do full justice to an ALW score written when he was at his very best and long before he decided to concentrate on making a quick buck out of reality TV.

Evita runs at the Mayflower Theatre until Sat 25th April 09
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