In the musical’s latest reincarnation presented by Showbiz Christchurch it is all good – in fact, it’s very good indeed.
“Any musical which begins with a funeral can’t be all bad,” the producer, Hal Prince, reportedly commented after reading the first draft of Evita.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical voyage through of the life and times of one Maria Eva Duarte de Peron, or Evita to her adoring thousands, is still not at all bad. In the musical’s latest reincarnation presented by Showbiz Christchurch it is all good – in fact, it’s very good indeed.
Any musical constructed on such a delicately balanced blend of beauty and bombast will always present major challenges to the director and cast. One false step and the entire edifice will descend into lachrymose, over-blown portentousness. Under Stephen Robertson’s finely-tuned direction, principals and cast successfully negotiated the perilous line to emerge with a production which became a revelation.
As a work of musical theatre, Evita is carried on three sets of shoulders. While the ensemble sections are enormously important – and they were exceptionally good on opening night – the trio of principals must display, collectively and individually, a formidably strong combination of acting and singing abilities to sustain the musical.
In the title role, Emily Burns gave a formidably focused first-night performance, attacking her role at full emotional throttle. Evita could easily become a creature of cliché, but Burns abandoned any temptation to overplay the melodrama, preferring to give us something hard, venal yet disconcertingly vulnerable.
Moving between brassy assertiveness and soft seductiveness, her singing could never be described as pretty, but it was perfect for the part. Together with an equally powerful acting presence, she triumphed, especially in her scenes with Roy Snow as Juan Peron. I would have perhaps liked less impassiveness and more rabble-rousing dictator, but Snow nevertheless became an excellent foil to Burns’ calculated glitter.
As Che, companion, narrator and observer, Jack Fraser injected exactly the correct amounts of raw cynicism and outrage into the part with a voice and stage presence which embedded his role firmly in the mind.
There was no reason for tears, Argentinian or otherwise, about a production which struck all the right notes with distinction.