There’s been some stunning shows on at the Empire over the last few months, from Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella to some exceptionally good vocal performances in Jekyll & Hyde. To the list add Evita, another smart and classy production that pushes all the right buttons.
It was initially a wonder why this touring production had no famous names among the cast, relying instead on West End pros. But it quickly became clear it just wasn’t necessary. The cast of Evita shone without some C-List reality star in a minor role popping up to do the publicity. The quality really was superb.
Evita is a special show, that perhaps showcases Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice at their very best. Somewhere inbetween the populist camp of their biggest hits like Cats and Joseph and a world apart from the operetta-type navel gazing of Aspects of Love, Evita is really a class act. Its score, a cyclical blending of dramatic requiems, cheeky salsas, rock opera and the stand-out melody of Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, is just a winning combination. The rise-and-fall story can’t fail.
The last time it was in Liverpool back in 2008 it was a huge hit. Now it is easy to see why. There is drama and style by the bucketload, a pacey plot, and some truly outstanding performances. It’s easy to feel thoroughly spoilt rotten, as it’s only June and I think I’ve already seen the best lead performances of the year – David Morrissey’s Macbeth, and now, Abigail Jaye’s Eva Peron.
Jaye simply nails it. Her big moment, Don’t Cry for Me Argentina is a wonderful tearjerker, her feisty young country girl transforming convincingly into the Dior-clad stateswoman. Earl Carpenter as Peron and Mark Powell as the very-easy-on-the-eye Che also excel as the men in her life. Powell started off somewhat unusually understated, but gave a remarkable performance in the second act. Comedy came only in the form of one particularly uncoordinated soldier in the military scenes. Although the dancing on the whole was competent, it never really seemed as tight as it could have been. And it also seemed quite odd how the chorus and crowd scenes relied on a backing track while the actors on stage kept their mouths shut. Surely, at the times they were used, using the chorus would have really helped build the atmosphere? Still, in the end, it is our three leads that ultimately command the attention, who would likely be as sensational on an empty stage.
Evita runs at the Empire until Saturday (June 25).