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Review: Evita, Newcastle Theatre Royal until Saturday

It seems impossible, but Evita first appeared on stage in 1978, which means the musical has lasted longer than its subject – loved and loathed Argentinean First Lady Eva Peron, who died at the age of 33

****
Martin Pellow stars as Che, Mark Heenehan as Peron and Madalena Alberto as Eva in Evita
Martin Pellow stars as Che, Mark Heenehan as Peron and Madalena Alberto as Eva in Evita

It seems impossible, but Evita first appeared on stage in 1978, which means the musical has lasted longer than its subject – loved and loathed Argentinean First Lady Eva Peron, who died at the age of 33.

This new touring production certainly isn’t showing its age, coming at its material with a heady mixture of energy and style that reminds us just how original the Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice concept always was.

The score, with its flashes of Latin American passion, echoes the strangeness of this Cinderella story, with a heroine whose raw ambition and manipulative sexual appeal propels her from teenage tart to saintly style icon through some pretty nasty political manoeuvres.

Was she just a cynical bitch or did real (if misguided) passion infuse her dubious benevolence?

This time round, thanks to the high-octane performance of Madalena Alberto, we have an Evita who seems to believe her own hype, thoroughly caught up in the excitement of it all, until illness reveals her devastating vulnerability.

At the height of her campaign she comes across like a belting blonde mixture of Ethel Merman and Margaret Thatcher – just too powerful to be resisted.

Mark Heenehan as Peron provides a surprisingly reassuring presence, fatherly rather than corrupt, which works tactfully to frame Evita’s dash and dazzle, and there are arresting performances in the minor but unmissable roles of the discarded mistress (Sarah McNicholas) and slimy tango singer Magaldi (Nic Gibney, obviously a rising star).

I was less convinced by Wet Wet Wet’s Marti Pellow as Che, though it’s never easy to get a handle on this observer/narrator role.

Nicely sardonic as he was, his voice didn’t feel at home in Lloyd Webber’s tricky phrases.

He never really let rip, with singing that felt too careful and wary. Nothing wrong with the voice, but he needs to relax into the role.

Mind you, to judge from their response most audience members would disagree wildly, as the applause was rapturous.

Elegant set and costumes plus witty choreography for a chorus that has to dance as it sings as it acts combine to bring Evita back to life with a vengeance.

by Gail-Nina Anderson

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