Evita is a musical with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice about the life of Eva Peron, wife of Argentinian president Juan Peron. The musical began its life as a concept album released in 1976, followed by the London production in 1978 and the Broadway production in 1979, where it won the Tony award for Best Musical.  It took many years to produce a film version, eventually starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas, and the show most recently had Westend and Broadway revivals with Argentine Elena Roger in the title and Ricky Martin playing Che.

With the show being a rarity in Victorian amateur circles, I was excited to finally see Evita, having never seen the show before, and also having recently returned from Buenos Aires. I was particularly interested in seeing how such an iconic Argentinian figure was to be portrayed.

The production commences with Evita’s funeral in Buenos Aires. The singing of the waiting crowds accompanied by projections of the actual occasion (I wish they had made use of more projections throughout the show).  The singing of the ensemble was beautiful, a little top heavy due to a large number of women in the cast, but the men certainly held their own and although the sound quality was a little reedy, they delivered a commendable performance.

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Christian Cavallo started off proceedings as Che, a role which acts as a narrator/greek chorus, often at counterpoint to the adoration of the crowd.  Christian plays Che with great swagger and charisma and has a wonderful voice, although at times, the higher parts of the  score felt a little out of his register.

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Jon Sebastian played the role of Juan Peron,  a political opportunist.  Juan uses Evita to gain the position he wants but as portrayed by Jon, he shows a real tenderness and love for Evita, especially as she falls ill.  They developed excellent chemistry and although the role is pretty thankless (he has no real song of his own and could potentially be seen as unsympathetic) Jon navigates the occasionally atonal nature of the score with great confidence and his rich baritone voice shone through with great charisma.

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Evita, played by Sarah Croser, started the show as a teenager, using every trick in the book to get out of her dire circumstances and the show concludes with Evita’s death at the age of 32.  It’s a really tough role.  She is rarely offstage, there are numerous costume and wig changes, sometimes on-stage.  The energy required to mull off such a demanding role is enormous.  While this version gives a very negative view of Eva, if you dig hard enough you will find other, very contrasting, versions of the same woman.  Sarah plays Evita, with a lot of confidence and great ability.  Her middle range is excellent, though her upper range is a little lacking and as a result, I missed a little of the sense of seductiveness that I would associate with her, not only in her dynamic with Peron, but also her ability to charm the Argentine people.

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I must make mention of Brendan Rossbotham, who played tango singer Magaldi as a bit of a stooge, with great aplomb; and Emily Jacker as Peron’s jilted mistress possessing a beautiful voice and fragility, stealing one of the moments of the evening when she sung the incredible Another Suitcase in Another Hall.

Choreography by Ashley Tynan-Mill was appropriate and ambitious.  Buenos Aires has a great love of the tango, and Ashley used enough tango in the choreography to help create a sense of authenticity.  Some segments were really beautiful, and she made use of her large ensemble admirably.

Brad Treloar as musical director and Tania Spence as vocal director both delivered excellent contributions.  The orchestra sounded beautiful (though bows without music, as written, seems odd) and the ensemble sounded solid throughout.

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Some directors might find Evita quite daunting, but Bryce Baumgarten approached it with intelligence and passion for the source material.  He has coaxed sense of affection for the material from his cast, and has created several lovely moments in the show, such as in the famous balcony scene of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, during which,  the whole balcony drifts downstage into a heavenly lighting state.  Another highlight was when a chorus of children came out of the dark archways and sang by candlelight.

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Costuming by Maxine Urquhart was amazing, particularly considering the scale of the production.  In a herculean effort, she produced everything from the floral sundresses of the Argentinian women, to the enormous beaded white tulle ballgown Evita wears in the balcony scene which were all stunning.  However, I would  liked to have seen Evita’s dresses a little tighter. I don’t really like tan character shoes and I think that some of the men’s hair needed to be more ‘period’.  Wigs by Nadine Fleischman were among some of the best I’ve seen onstage in a long time.

Set design by David Greenwood was amazing, consisting of many mobile staircases, which were used as balconies, terraces etc.  The Casa Rosada was very beautiful and imposing, and when it moved gracefully, although I wish at some time it could have actually been pink, (like the real building). Lighting by Brad Alcock was very appropriate and at times, quite striking.

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I left the theatre feeling impressed at the overall standard, yet I couldn’t help wondering if the show itself needs work.  The subject matter lends itself to more exploration than a sung-through concept can deliver.  It has the potential to be such great show, with realistic dialogue and songs interspersed throughout (possibly not requiring the Che character at all).  But, as the book currently stands, it feels a little dated.

Centrestage did an admirable job of a huge show with great reverence and affection.  If you are thinking of venturing to Geelong to see an evening performance of this production keep in mind that it starts at 7.30pm but finishes about 10pm which means the evening is not too late.

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