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Evita on tour

A dramatically staged Evita with a fantastic lead drops in at Brighton for one week only

If you’ve always meant to catch Evita, or fancy another wallow in the long-running musical, this is the version to catch.

Photo by Pamela Raith

On at Brighton’s Theatre Royal till Saturday, this tour stars Lucy O’Byrne as a superb Eva. She was a runner up in TV’s The Voice and played Fantine in Les Mis in the West End as well as Maria in The Sound of Music tour so she can certainly handle a big solo. She’s also effectively expressive moving from sassy to catty to touching.

The Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical covers, of course, the journey from rags to riches (and real political power) made by Maria Eva Duarte. After making it as a successful actress, Eva/Evita became the charismatic wife of Argentine dictator Juan Peron and an iconic figure in her own right.

Glenn Carter plays Che Guevra, who acts as narrator, making cynical interjections throughout, some serious, some comic – (the latter working better for me as I couldn’t stop thinking he looked a bit like Bill Bailey). His body language punctured the grandness and adoration of certain scenes as he wove through the action in combat trousers and boots, disdainful or amused.

Photo by Pamela Raith

Evita is not one of my favourite musicals. Because it is entirely set to music the stand alone numbers are tacked together by a lot of limp half-sung, half-spoken sections. It’s all the more important then that it is lifted by excellent voices.

Not only Lucy O’Byrne but her co-star Mike Sterling as Peron (who’s previously played Lloyd-Webber’s phantom in the West End) rose to the occasion, while Another Suitcase in Another Hall was beautifully handled by Cristina Hoey as Peron’s departing mistress and it was a great pity she didn’t have further solos.

Photo by Pamela Raith

Of course the big moment is Evita’s balcony scene for Don’t Cry for Me Argentina and the set was very effective here. The balcony that had been used as part of a walkway throughout was suddenly pushed forward so Eva was singing out over the audience as if we had become her crowd. It was a great move.

Photo by Pamela Raith

There was impressive staging too, with dancing mirrors, for the Rainbow High scene when Evita sings “they need to adore me – so Chrisitian Dior me…” It’s a number that feels both funny and chilling as Peron acknowledges the poor are distracted by her rags to riches transformation.

The lighting really added drama to this production, notably atmosphere in the opening funeral scene, gravitas in the downward spotlighted scenes of political triumph and cool glamour in the mirrors dance.

Photo by Pamela Raith

The show has a large cast, including a group of children (one of whom performs a charming solo) and the women get to wear some gorgeous costumes, some of which look genuine vintage. There are scenes when the ensemble cast are subtly effective in the background notably as a parade of hooded ‘disappeared’ political opponents.

It’s a quality production that takes us on a dance through the life and politics of this controversial heroine, at times Lady Macbeth-like in stoking her husband’s ambition, at others feeble in a hospital bed. On one hand apparently championing the poor, on the other feeding a Swiss bank account.

Photo by Pamela Raith

There’s a strangely abrupt ending with an intriguing fact about the aftermath of Eva’s untimely death that had me reaching for Google. In fact the programme will give you a good summary of the history and hype around the Perons including Eva’s role in getting Argentinian women the right to vote.

It’s a beautiful staging with fantastic vocals – if you’ve only seen the Madonna film version, then as the song goes, you’ll find this one surprisingly good for you.

Evita is at the Theatre Royal, Brighton, daily until Sat 3 Nov with matinees on Thurs and Sat. Tickets are from £17.90 atgtickets.com

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