Bacup Royal Court Theatre Group
Director: Oliver Peck
Musical Director: Nikki Turner
Choreographer: Millie Hall
After the success of “Jesus Christ Superstar”, which, at the time, was seen as controversial, another controversial topic was considered. Tim Rice was inspired by a radio program about the life of Eve Peron. A concept album of the new show Evita was released and the rest, as they say, is theatrical history. It is forty-one years since its opening and from that time Andrew Lloyd Webber has dominated musical theatre.
On a set design by Richard Brennand and Peter Thew, the set dressing gave credence to this epic story. It was extremely well-lit with archive footage projected. The sound design gave such clarity: every word of this sung through musical was heard. We had pleasing character presentation, and the costumes, including “that dress”, wigs and make-up were the finishing touches to the historical picture.
This show still has a lot to say. It is a story of a celebrity politician, a male dominated world and a back street actress who become the country’s heroine, their “spiritual chief”. For the creative team including Rich Brennand this district premiere clearly was a labour of love. The company was highly drilled: everyone was totally synchronised, the movement/choreography could not have been tighter. The director allowed every part of Eva’s short life to be told. Every episode in her climb to that famous balcony appearance was dramatically exposed. There was so much necessary detail but nothing had been overlooked. The chorography captured the strong tango and military influences so that the movement was all executed with precision. Musically the company was totally focused and the fiendishly difficult score was so well delivered by the cast and orchestra.
The ensemble never stopped working and everyone brought much energy to the production. This was shown in musical numbers, “Buenos Aires”, “A New Argentina” and “And the Money Kept Rolling In”. These numbers set the stage for the characters which Eva meets on the way, via the bedroom, to the top. The first rung of the ladder (lover) is with the cabaret singer, Magaldi, who sang with the passion of his “Night of a Thousand Stars” played by Oliver Peck. After all-but-reaching Peron’s bed, his teenage lover has to be evicted. Jessica Kate Moran was lovely as Peron’s mistress; you could feel her pain as she sang “Another Suit Case, Another Hall”.
Ché is the narrator linking the unfolding events of Eva’s rise to becoming Argentina’s formidable first lady. Jay Broadhurst was charismatic as the revolutionary Ché. His vocal treatment of “Oh, What a Circus” and “High Flying Adored” held the audience. Playing the forceful leader, dictator Peron, is not an easy task as all the ambitious emotions and also the loving husband have to be displayed. Connal O’Reilly, as Juan Peron, captured all these character elements giving a believable performance.
Evita is such a mammoth role to play. There are so many demands vocally and the raw emotion of Eva’s cold and hungry ambitions have to be portrayed. Jenny-May O’Reilly had the vocal range, a high belt voice although maybe at times a little too open at the top. Her rendering of “You Must Love Me” showed the vulnerability of Eva. Never off the stage Jenny-May took the audience from Eva’s poor beginnings to almost sainthood with thrilling energy.
Forty years on Evita is still a powerful piece of musical theatre as proved in this production.