**** (out of ****)
Last weekend, I flew to London to see the Michael Grandage's excellent revival of Evita before it closes in May. I absolutely adored this high-flying, soaring production. It is by far one of the best shows I've seen throughout the past year.
Credit Grandage's direction with once again revitalizing a musical in a most breathtaking, dazzling manner. As in 2005's revival of Guys And Dolls, Grandage has teamed up with choreographer Rob Ashford to effectively and vivaciously move along the story, this time of Eva Duarte Peron.
Fortunately, unlike in the film version, the darker side of the Perons remains intact within the book; Ashford's mesmerizing choreography brings the backstabbing struggle for power within Argentina's military to life, showing Juan Peron as a man who could only be trusted at a soldier's own peril. And of course, given that the clawing Evita herself was no saint, Grandage practically installs a revolving door on her bedroom for the rousing number "Goodnight And Thank You," and later rhapsodically illuminates how readily Peron's first lady enjoys the spoils of her husband's inherently corrupt regime.
Making her spectacular West End debut is an astonishing Argentine talent, Elena Roger, who offers an exceptionally nuanced performance as Eva Peron. The compact Roger evolves right before your eyes from the flirtatious young girl seeking her ticket to Buenos Aires stardom to her role alongside Juan Peron to a physically and emotionally impaired invalid. And what a powerful, beautiful voice!
Philip Quast brings a deceptively steely charm to his characterization of strongman Juan Peron epitomizing why he and Eva would be "surprisingly good" for one another.
As Che, the seductive Matt Rawle might resemble Antonio Banderas, but his glorious voice is much more in tune with Mandy Patinkin. And thankfully -- even though in a nod to the 1996 movie, the song "You Must Love Me" has been added to great effect -- Peron's mistress (an angelic Lorna Want) brilliantly reclaims the tune "Another Suitcase In Another Hall" absconded by Madonna for herself on the silver screen. Want's brief yet amazing turn makes me want to see more of her in the future.
Add to all of this the newly syncopated rhythms offered by David Cullen's lush new orchestrations (particularly in songs like "Buenos Aires") for what is arguably Andrew Lloyd Webber's best score, along with a breathtaking set design by Christopher Oram, and the result is one of the most stellar evenings of live theatre I've enjoyed over the past twelve months. It left me on a proverbial "Rainbow High."
This Evita is unequivocally stunning. But if you'd like to see it, you'd better get thee to London soon since the show closes May 26. Given its relatively short life on the West End stage (less than one year), the original plans to transfer to Broadway might now be in jeopardy.
This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).
Click here for tickets.
May Requiem For Evita In London (February 28, 2007)
Sunday At The Grosvenor House With Laurence (February 19, 2007)
Which British Hits Will Be Broadway-Bound? (September 20, 2006)
Evita to New York: I'd Be Surprisingly Good for You (June 28, 2006)
High Flying Adored: Evita Conquers the West End Critics (June 23, 2006)
Hello, Buenos Aires! New London Revival of Evita Opens Tonight (June 21, 2006)