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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Dominion


  Madalena Alberto/ Ph: Darren Bell

It broke new ground, and it implanted a clutch of earworm tunes that remain naggingly hummable today. But does Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s blockbuster 1978 musical still sing? The answer – at least in this lacklustre revival by Bob Thomson and Bill Kenwright – is, sadly, no. The rags-to-riches story of Eva Peron, the Argentine First Lady who rose from poverty to become a national figurehead and, to many of the country’s dispossessed or “descamisados,” practically a saint, is both murky and fascinating. But although this production does its best to point up the violence and corruption that underpinned the Peron regime, with political opponents dragged off or grotesquely paraded, their heads in sacks, the show itself never quite has the guts to look hard behind the glitz of its equivocal heroine. And while the Portuguese actor Madalena Alberto is gutsy in the title role, as Che, the sardonic commentator on her meteoric progress modeled on Che Guevara, Marti Pellow, former frontman of the pop group Wet Wet Wet, is frankly appalling. 

Matthew Wright’s set is ugly and unwieldy – a cumbersome obstacle course of flown-in pillars and staircases – and Bill Deamer’s choreography features too much aimless circuitous wandering about. It doesn’t help that the chorus is not especially well drilled in terms of either vocals or dance. But the show’s biggest problem is undoubtedly Pellow. He constantly sings behind the beat, miring the tempi of the numbers maddeningly in the mud. His voice is warbling and over-florid, and yet unexpressive, his delivery devoid of the wry wit the role demands, and, worse, mangling the narration that is vital to the clarity of the unfolding action. Physically, he is stiff and blank.

Happily, Alberto is considerably better, despite being saddled with some conspicuously unconvincing wigs and hideously unflattering costumes. She could be even steelier, but she does combine toughness with wily coquettishness to good effect, and if her voice is somewhat shrilly unlovely, that’s not altogether inappropriate for this strident, rabble-rousing diva. She comes into her own, too, in the show’s later scenes, when Eva becomes terminally ill with cancer, her pain and physical frailty offset by her relentless and indomitable will.

The score, with its memorable melodies and Latin rhythms, sounds as strong as ever, with numbers such as "I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You," "Another Suitcase in Another Hall" and "You Must Love Me" (added for the 1996 film starring Madonna) shining as brightly as the better-known balcony address "Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina" (though, as Peron’s teenage mistress, Sarah McNicholas’ delivery of "Suitcase" is the vocal equivalent of squeezing toothpaste from the tube). Matthew Cammelle is a clear-voiced, ambitious Juan Peron, and Ben Forster is suitably oleaginous as the tango singer Magaldi, the first man to be useful to Eva, who transports her from the sticks to the bustle and grit of Buenos Aires. Whatever its flaws, this is a show that has earned its place in musical-theatre history. But this production doesn’t come close to doing it justice.


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