REVIEW: Lavish production of Evita at Sheffield’s Lyceum

Bill Kenwright production of'EVITA'lyrics by Tim Rice'music by Andrew Lloyd Webber'directed by Bob Thomson and Bill Kenwright
Bill Kenwright production of'EVITA'lyrics by Tim Rice'music by Andrew Lloyd Webber'directed by Bob Thomson and Bill Kenwright

I always wonder after a production of Evita whether Eva Peron would have been more than a footnote in history without the intervention of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The new Bill Kenwright tour which runs at Sheffield’s Lyceum until July 13 is certainly more than a footnote in musical theatre. It’s as lavish as the Perons’ lifestyle. The funeral in the opening and closing scenes has paintings, large bouquets and an elaborate coffin and bier.

There’s also a complex set made up of pillars, arches, staircases and elaborate wrought iron, multiple costume changes and a dozen cute kids from a local stage school. The ensemble is the largest I’ve seen in a professional musical for some years: 14-strong according to the programme, but there seemed to be several more on stage a few times.

It’s the ensemble work which underpins this quality show, with crisp, energetic dancing and excellent characterisation providing a firm background against which Peron and Evita herself can shine.

Marti Pellow is the big name on the poster, but he sort of misses the point about Che Guevara; instead of slouching nonchalantly and commenting wryly, he struts his way into the foreground.

He fails to steal the show from Evita, though. Madalena Alberto is a rising star and glitters like a diamond, sometimes razor-sharp, sometimes sparkling. She sings confidently, knows when to keep things simple, and captures Eva Peron’s brittleness and vulnerability as well as her strength of purpose.

She gets tremendous support from Mark Heenehan’s Peron; he has real stage presence and a rich bass voice which combine into a stand-out performance.

The minor players, Nic Gibney as tango singer Magaldi and Sarah McNicholas as Peron’s displaced mistress, also make the most of their moments in the spotlight; they each have one song, and they make it memorable.

Evita was an unexpected hit, and with revivals of this calibre it will go right on running.

LYNNE PATRICK