Tina Arena has had a remarkable recording career spanning four decades. One of the country’s most successful singer-songwriters and possessing one of the best voices in the business, she’s sold over 10 million albums and chalked up an impressive string of chart hits. In recent years, she’s been inducted into the prestigious ARIA Hall of Fame and received 2016’s Order of Australia honour. And next month, Arena will embark on her national Innocence to Understanding Greatest Hits Tour, performing 16 shows in 14 cities across the country.
But only two weeks out from her first show in Brisbane, Arena was in Sydney on Monday announcing another major project on the horizon. Next September, she’ll take the stage as Eva Perón in a recreation of the original West End and Broadway production of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita, directed by Hal Prince. The production will premiere at the Sydney Opera House’s Joan Sutherland Theatre precisely 40 years after its first staging in London.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest musical theatre works of all time, Evita has received more than 20 major awards over the years including the coveted Olivier and Tony prizes for Best Musical. Its 1996 film adaptation, starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas, received both Golden Globe and Oscar recognition. It tells the story of Argentine political leader Eva Perón, the wife of president Juan Perón, from her early days through to her own political career and, ultimately, her death at the age of 33.
Over the years, Arena has spent considerable time on the musical theatre stage, both at home and internationally. Her credits include Cabaret, Nine, Dynamite and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. Her most recent appearance in musical theatre was 10 years ago, playing Roxie Hart in Chicago on London’s West End.
So, has returning to the musical theatre stage been something Arena has contemplated for some time?
“For me, it’s all about the role; it’s all about the piece,” she tells Theatre People. “I can’t work or do anything just for the sake of doing it. I really feel like it’s either something that I have absolute, undying passion to do, or there’s something I can learn, I can bring to it, if I feel I can do it … I’ve got to have some sort of an emotional connection to what it is that I want to do. I’m not a great person to just go through the motions, I never have been.”
Arena talks about what it is about the role of Eva Perón that has made her want to take it on.
“I’ve always been a woman who has been passionate about things. I’m Mediterranean – Mediterranean women in this country probably struggled for a long time. That’s changing, which is beautiful to see a change. I feel really blessed that there is much more of a sense of openness to it.
“But I think as women, and female roles, I think there’s still a lot of growing and learning to do, and I really feel that this story is something that I think that we can all spiritually and psychologically and philosophically take something from, because I think that’s what we lack in our everyday life. We’re just inundated with an enormous amount of useless bullshit and rubbish that none of us are learning anything from, but becoming increasingly stressed over.
“So, I really feel that there needs to be a major cultural renaissance that goes on, and I really feel that we need to become a bit more serious about that, not take it for granted. Therefore, a piece like this is something that is very important to popular culture. There’s so much to learn from it … And I don’t like it when people say, ‘It’s a feminist thing’. It’s not. It’s a woman who had a vision. Whether you agreed with that vision or whether you didn’t agree with that vision, she still had a vision and she kept her word.”
The role of Perón has been played by some of the most celebrated women in musical theatre across the globe including Elaine Paige, Patti LuPone, Stephanie Lawrence, Elena Roger and, in the original Australian production, by Jennifer Murphy. Arena talks about her own process in preparing to play such an enormous role.
“I’ve read quite a bit about her but, again, what you read you never know if it’s factual, if it’s somebody’s interpretation, everything is so subjective about her,” she says.
“I just have to try and find what it is about her that made my light globe go on. And I’m not interested in focusing in on the frivolities or somebody’s misguided interpretation of what they think she is, because I think that people forget about the contribution. They’re too busy looking at the diamonds and all of that kind of stuff and not really getting passed that. I like to scrape through layers, that’s what interests me. Surface is not interesting at all.”
Live performance, both in musical theatre and as a highly successful touring artist, is something in which Arena is greatly skilled. Given that Eva Perón is regarded one of the most demanding female roles in musical theatre, will Arena’s touring experience be an advantage to her in taking on this latest challenge?
“I think so, I think it can,” she says. “It’s not a role that you’d be able to sustain for a very long time because it’s emotionally and physically pretty mental. It’s not something that will go on for a long time … You must understand of the emotional implication because when people come and see you every night, they don’t give a shit if your cat’s died or if something’s going on in your life. They go, ‘I want to see her perform’. It’s an enormous amount of responsibility.
“Equally, my personal shows aren’t easy sings, and I’m psychologically getting ready for that too. I’m training, I’m sleeping, I eat really good food, and just try to keep my life as simple as I possibly can and not listen to what’s going on out there because it’s a little bit too much white noise for me at this moment. So, I have to be careful and protect myself, live in a bubble, which is not always fun. It’s really tough, but it’s for a period of time.”
EVITA – SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Season: From 13 September 2018
Performance Times: Tues–Sat 7.30pm, Matinees Wed & Sat 1pm, Sun 3pm
Price: From $109.90*
Bookings: evitathemusical.com.au or 9318 8200 or 02 9250 7777
Groups of 20 or more call 02 9250 7700
TICKETS ON SALE FROM 31 AUGUST
* An additional transaction fee and/or a credit/debit payment processing fee may apply
ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Facebook – @EvitaTheMusical
Twitter – @OfficialEvita
Instagram – @OfficialEvita
TINA ARENA – INNOCENCE TO UNDERSTANDING TOUR
For further information on Tina Arena’s Innocence to Understanding Greatest Hits Tour, head to www.tinaarena.com