You can see why, initially, Lloyd Webber hesitated: writing a musical about a fascist dictator and his scheming wife, whose ambitions were cut short by cancer? Well, it’s not exactly Paint Your Wagon, is it?
And yet, Tim Rice, who was gripped by the tale of Argentina’s spiritual leader (mind you, this is the man who write an entire musical about Chess, so go figure) persisted and the duo created, at first, a rock opera album before committing the musical to the stage in 1978.
Thirty five years later, the musical still pulses with politics and passion – which, ironically, means it’s survived at least two years longer than its leading lady did.
This touring production keeps things simple – grand Moorish arches frame a stripped down set, with cast iron balcony and spiral staircases representing that balcony of the Casa Rosada.
But the score? That still manages to fill the Empire’s ample auditorium – with its Latin-lite rhythms, rousing company numbers and poignant anthems.
Stand out moments include a brittle and ethereal ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’ by Sarah McNicholas, the heartbreaking ‘You Must Love Me’ (which fits so easily into the production one forgets it was only written for Alan Parker’s 1996 film of the musical) by Madalena Alberto (Eva) and fragile paen to lost ambition, ‘Lament’.
Marti Pellow prowls the stage with a commanding, macho presence as Che (the voice of the ‘Descamisanos’ – the ‘shirtless ones’ who were the wind beneath Eva’s wings) although, at times, he’s a little too jiggy with the vibrato stick.
So, Evita, then, a military coup you can sing along to. Lloyd-Webber and Rice’s swan song, it might well still be a curious choice for a musical: but Rice’s hunch – that there are themes within Eva’s brief, magnetic life that touch us all, is as on the money now as it was then.
His lyrics (I come from the people/they need to adore me/so Christian Dior me) fizz with playfulness and irreverence: and maybe that’s the secret to Evita’s (and Eva’s) success. They both know how to win over a crowd.
until Saturday 29 June