It always seemed an odd subject for a musical – a little-remembered, long-dead foreign dictator’s wife with a penchant for self-delusion and the trappings of power. But more than 35 years after its original West End staging with Elaine Paige and David Essex, Evita continues to prove its strength and staying power with the return of this touring production. It also demonstrates that the show is far from reliant on a star attraction to make its point, although the ever-popular Marti Pellow is headlining in the Essex ‘narrator’ role of Che.

What keeps this spectacular musical on its feet is the combined genius of Tim Rice’s wonderful lyrics and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stunning score, never shown to better advantage together than in this complex, meticulously structured piece.

Directors Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright serve their creators well, with a production that looks terrific (Matthew Wright) and impeccably drilled (Bill Deamer), and there’s no stinting on the performers either, from a huge and talented on-stage ensemble to the tight 10-piece band in the pit.

Madalena Alberto makes a fine Evita, ranging from fiery ambition to brittle illness, while Pellow’s voice continues to mature appealingly – although it’s hard to avoid a sneaking suspicion that this thoroughly nice chap has been miscast again in an oddly-fitting villain role. Oh, and somebody needs to show him how to wear a beret.

The stand-out performance comes from Mark Heenehan as Peron, who matches a stunning singing voice with an utterly convincing acting talent that draws some of the finest moments from the music.

Much of the audience was on its feet at the opening night of this two-week run and, while the production may not quite have the ultimate wow factor, the work and drive on display certainly deserve the appreciation.

MICHAEL DAVIES

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