Sunday, March 8, 2015

EVITA


Lyrics by Tim Rice.
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Director: Jim McMullen
Musical Director: Casey White
Choreography: Shasha Chen & Elizabeth Sheppard
Erindale Theatre until 21st March.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

The Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice doco-musical, “Evita” is an extraordinary piece of music theatre writing. It starts and ends with a funeral, and, in between, traces the rise and rise of the political career of Eva Peron, the second wife of Argentine President, Juan Peron, through the prism of Lloyd Webber and Rice.  The show is completely sung through and it is essential that Tim Rice’s brilliant lyrics are heard, as they propel the drama. “Evita” places heavy demands on the cast, and especially on the singer playing the central role of Eva Peron, which is written for a virtuoso actress/singer.

From the start, the opening night of the Canberra Philharmonic Society’s ambitious production was bedevilled with sound problems, particularly in the first act. A heavy reverb made the voices sound dis-embodied, the orchestra was too loud, and the soloists and ensemble appeared to have trouble synchronising with the conductor. Most of the all-important lyrics were unintelligible, particularly those of Che (Grant Pegg), which initially sets up the drama. Things improved in the second act, but too late for the audience to become involved in the story.

Director, Jim McMullen has set the production in a town square in Buenos Aires, and together with Ian croker, has designed an impressive two-storey setting which takes up the entire stage area of the Erindale Theatre.  While this allows from some imaginatively staged crowd scenes,  the more intimate scenes suffer, particularly the long second act scene when, standing alone in the huge town square,  Peron reveals to Eva that she is dying, which comes across more mawkish than moving.

Kelly Roberts (Eva Peron)  Tony Falla (Juan Peron) 
During the curiously staged “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”, because of the large expanse of unused stage between the audience and the large chorus, crammed upstage under the balcony, Eva appears to be addressing a small rabble rather than a huge crowd.

Choreographers Shasha Chen and Elizabeth Sheppard devised some interesting movement for the large ensemble in the crowd scenes, but their tendency to include inappropriate, out of character, dance steps often spoiled the overall effect.  The balcony dance for Eva and Peron was clumsy and unromantic, and the repeated effect of having someone hold Evita aloft at the conclusion of numbers simply looked uncomfortable.

The role of Evita in this musical demands a great deal of presence and panache from the leading lady. Despite the fact that she could sing the songs, and looked elegant in her costumes, Kelly Roberts often appeared out of her depth, and exhibited little of the charisma and intense driving ambition necessary to convince that her Evita could have inspired a nation.

As Juan Peron, Tony Falla provided a well-sung and supportive performance, but his scenes with Eva lacked the required chemistry needed if they were to be convincing as a power couple.

Grant Pegg (Che) Kelly Roberrts (Eva Peron

Grant Pegg, as Che, the narrator who comments from the sidelines on the unfolding events, sang strongly and passionately, but moved around so much that it was difficult to focus on what he was saying.  Matt Chardon O’Dea impressed as the tango singer, Magaldi, as did Beth Deer with her solo, “Another Suitcase in another Hall”.

Much obvious care and attention has been expended on the historical detail of settings and costumes, and there is much to enjoy in this ambitious production, but on opening night, apart from the sound problems, or perhaps because of them, the show felt tentative and insecure. Hopefully this will be ironed out in future performances to allow this production to achieve its full potential.


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