Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Evita, the story of one woman's climb to the top of Argentine politics via a stepladder made of beds, ambition and realpolitik, is one of musical theatre's most surprisingly captivating shows. Its ballads are beautiful, its lyrics emotive and its book is clever. And here, after thirty years, Evita continues to reign almost unquestionably with beauty and with grace.
Emblazoned across the publicity like a rabble-rousing Communist leader, Marti Pellow has a loyal fan-base large enough to start a revolution. There is a feeling that love is all around in the auditorium and, though Pellow fails to have the command necessary to carry the role of Che, the audience rises to its feet and cheers for the local boy like an army of Argentines outside the Casa Rosada.
The unfortunate truth is that Pellow and Peron have more in common than Andrew Lloyd Webber probably anticipated when he cast the Wet, Wet, Wet star: both depend on the love of the audience and blind faith. Though he looks the part, Pellow's performance as the narrator of the show is over-aerated and breathy, making his lyrics incredibly difficult to decipher and, consequently, the plot difficult to follow. Although he improves in the second act, this is still a performance which lacks dramatic intensity or diction, a problem when it sits at the heart of the story.
Madalena Alberto is an excellent Evita, vocally commanding and emotionally rich. Her journey from the dirt-tracks of Argentina to the corridors of power is a well-developed and subtle one, finding both the ambition and the vulnerability of a woman who left her Christian Dior shaped footprints on history. The moment when she appears on the balcony, lit like a saint, is as enchanting as it is spectacular, a perfect entrance to a perfect "Don't Cry for Me Argentina." The woman's decline, too, is dealt with with sensitivity and subtlety, bolstered by an acute acting sensibility.
This could be an outstanding production of an outstanding show. The ensemble is tight; the choreography tells a thousand stories; the lighting, though arguably a little emotionally "paint by numbers", creates the dry heat of both Argentina and Evita's life. But without that security in the narrative, something is feels altogether more uncertain.