On 26th July 1952, Eva Peron entered immortality. One of Argentina’s most beloved and controversial figures, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical Evita, charts the life of Maria Eva Duarte from impoverished actress to renowned political powerhouse.
Webber and Rice are celebrated collaborators, and rightly so. However, at risk of being controversial, Evita starts off fairly uninspiring, the more serious musical tones coming across overdone and repetitive – especially when compared to the lighter musicals of the 21stCentury. That being said, it’s famed for a reason and contains some of the most heart-breaking (You must love me), seductive (I’d be surprisingly good for you) and beautiful (Don’t cry for me Argentina) musical theatre numbers. The familiar rock opera sounds of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ have infiltrated the orchestration and it may be surprising for many first-timers to discover how songs that are etched in human consciousness fit in to the actual narrative of the piece; the revelation of which character sings the well-known ‘Another suitcase in another hall,’ provides an added level of pathos.
Under Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright’s direction, everyone and everything looks and sounds the part for militant South America. Caroline Hannam’s stunning costumes perfectly reflect the differences between the exhausted working classes and privileged, well-to-do high society. Furthermore, Matthew Wright’s design and Bill Deamer’s inventive choreography, transport the audience from the busy streets of Buenos Aires to the acclaimed Peron mansion, all in rapid speed.
You can hear a pin drop when Lucy O’Byrne makes her second act entrance. Before a single note of the musical’s most powerful and memorable numbers is played, O’Byrne’s silent arrival on the balcony of the Casa Rosada – enveloped in the iconic Christian Dior-style white gown – is a truly breathtaking site to behold. In a refreshing age-appropriate casting for the titular role (Eva Peron was only 33 when she died of cervical cancer – O’Byrne is 27), O’Byrne disproves the theory that Evita is not a young person’s role, embodying the power, glamour and political sex appeal of one of the world’s most famous women. Her transition from vivacious young girl, to empowered First Lady, to stoic sufferer is superbly executed, however, it’s her moments of stillness that are completely exquisite and earn her a rightful place alongside this magnificent string of major West End Stars.