Evita. Lyrics by Tim Rice. Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Directed by Jim McMullen. Musical direction by Casey White. Choreography by Shasha Chen and Eliza Shephard. Thurs-Sat Mar 5-7, Wed-Sat Mar 11-14, Wed –Sat Mar 18-21 at 8pm. Matinees Sat Mar 14 and 21. Bookings 62571950 or philo.org.au/tickets/evita/
There is a little more to the musical Evita than the song Don't Cry for Me Argentina. It's based upon the real life story of Evita Peron and her journey from poverty to a legendary partnership with Argentine dictator Juan Peron. A working class character called Che, who may evoke Che Guevara, narrates and increasingly debates with Evita the reasons for her rise. In death she is almost deified.
It's a powerful piece of history with the potential for a musical theatre piece to explore issues of class, gender, celebrity status, corruption and political power. Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber are, however, no Bertolt Brechts or Sondheims and it has to be said that Evita does a fairly surface job with the material. Evita sleeps her way to the top, Peron plays a deadly game of musical chairs for his political advancement and the people surge around in the streets of Buenos Aires but the musical struggles for an insightful glimpse of the workings of politics or of inner lives.
Canberra Philharmonic's production has its struggles also, despite strong leads, the occasional lovely visuals and an excellent chorus and orchestra. On opening night the sound system battled significantly to cope with the voices, although it did well enough with the excellent pit orchestra under Casey White. In a sung through musical, with no spoken scenes to break up the stream of songs, hearing the words is crucial.
And there's an inexplicable hit and miss approach to the lighting that can go from creating wonderfully backlit images of tight groups of the Argentine people to leaving the set under lit pre and post show and draining the show's atmosphere by leaving it totally unlit at interval. Since this set is a magnificently detailed and solidly architectural set designed by Ian Croker and director Jim McMullen evoking a moody Latin America with its balconies and doorways and staircases, it deserves better.
However, the large company, led by an Evita with real presence in Kelly Roberts, do a sterling job of the piece. Roberts catches something of the nature of Evita's struggle and she has good support from Tony Falla's somewhat sinister Peron and Grant Pegg as the forthright narrator Che, the voice of the people. There's a succession of real theatrical moments: the cameo of Peron's displaced mistress (Beth Deer) as Evita moves in, the candle carrying children's chorus in the moving number Santa Evita, the way presidential wife Evita is dressed by a small impersonal group of female dressers, the images of rich and poor augmented so well by Chelsea De Rooy's softly pastel period costumes.
And above all there's the repeated images of the crowd, backlit, often faceless, waving their hands aloft, sometimes with fluttering white handkerchiefs, sometimes in prayer or mourning, sometimes forming family groups, powerless but powerful and at the heart of Evita's story.
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