Grand Opera House, Belfast – Tue 03 Sep – Sat 14 Sep 2013
Starring: Madalena Alberto, Marti Pellow and Mark Heenehan
West End star and multi-platinum selling artist Marti Pellow leads an all-star cast in Evita. Telling the story of Eva Peron, wife of former Argentine dictator Juan Peron, Evita follows Eva’s journey from humble beginnings through to extraordinary wealth, power and iconic status which ultimately led her to be heralded as the ‘spiritual leader of the nation’ by the Argentine people. Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic tale of Argentina’s ‘spiritual leader’ Ava Peron , Evita comes to Belfast and is arguably the best show to hit the Grand Opera House so far this year.
Starting the tale in July 1952 at the funeral of Evita (Alberto), the story is narrated by Che (Marti Pellow) a person who acts as the voice of the people and who, despite many people’s belief, is not actually Che Guevara, can see things that others cannot, allowing him to tell parts of the tale that aren’t privy to the public’s eye.
The tale of Perrone is not a pretty, rags to riches, all is well in the end affair. Webber and Rice tell a tale of a woman who had grand aspirations and who literally slept her way to the top of the pile, becoming the face of Argentina, wife of the president, Juan Peron. But, while many worshipped her as a saint, many saw her as poison and believe her support of the working man – the shirtless ones – was nothing more than a way for her to control Argentina. And control it she did.
Pellow gives a solid performance as Che here, injecting hope, humour rage and sorrow in all the right places, walking through the events of a time in Argentina’s history that is still being felt today.
He sees Peron for what she is, cold, manipulative and brutal – hinting that any who oppose here disappear and may have come to a grim end – but he sees her too at her most vulnerable and, like the rest of the country and the world, he is drawn in by this fragile, beautiful woman. But make no mistake, a cunning creature lurks beneath.
Which brings us nicely to Alberto’s performance of the titular Evita. One words sums her up: stunning.
Her story evolves over the course of 20 years, when we first meet her she is an ambitious young girl with aspirations of heading to the big city and making the world her oyster and using her bar singer boyfriend as her ticket to ride. But once she gets to her destination she ditches him and uses her sexuality and beauty to get work as a radio presenter, then as an actress and eventually as the face of Argentina, an ambassador who wears the finest clothes and travels the world, rallying the cause of her people, all the while bleeding Argentina’s rich resources dry.
Alberto plays Evita perfectly, mixing the beauty, sensuality, intelligence and ruthlessness of the character to fantastic effect and her voice, oh wow, her voice is just incredible. When she performs the famous ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ to the people, just after Juan has been made president, it is never in any doubt why she was able to wrap Argentina around her little finger. Her performance and presence is simply magnificent.
A special note too for the set design. The set flows and changes so many times throughout the show, effortlessly becoming a palace balcony, an airport runway or a bedroom, that you soon stop noticing as your mind just accepts the fluid changes in location. And this is a compliment to the designers, I’m a big believer in the concept of the best effects being the ones you don’t notice. Most won’t realise the set is changing, bringing us to different locations and back without ever drawing attention to itself; I noticed, but I was once a set designer and I adored the work these guys did, enjoying every move and drop.
Overall, I found very little to fault in the production. The live orchestra – always the way to go with a musical as the recorded performances just lack that oomph – was fantastic and never missed a note, the performances were solid and the story was fun, funny, emotional, sexy, tragic and cleverly handled and the lead performance by Madalena Alberto was – and I’m loathe to use this word – spellbinding.
If theatre is your thing, heck, even if it’s not, this is pretty close to unmissable