Mollie Melia-Redgrave as Eva Peron
Mollie Melia-Redgrave as Eva Peron

Andrew Lloyd Webber has heralded an unknown acting student as "the best sung Eva Peron I've ever heard".

He was speaking last night (14 November 2013) after watching a production of Evita to mark the opening of the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation Theatre at the Arts Educational School (ArtsEd) in west London.

Lloyd Webber took to the stage after the performance and said he was "not prepared" for such an accomplished production of his 1978 musical.

Singling Mollie Melia-Redgrave, who sang the title role, out for praise, he added: "'You Must Love Me', which is a song Tim Rice and I wrote for the movie, I've never, ever heard sung so brilliantly."

Melia-Redgrave told WhatsOnStage afterwards she was "completely overwhelmed" by the evening, which was attended by luminaries including director Trevor Nunn, lyricist Don Black and Lloyd Webber's casting director David Grindrod, as well as ArtsEd alumni including Janie Dee and Nigel Harman.

"I had to take myself off on my own before the performance and breathe for a bit," she said, "but after the first few minutes of being on stage you can't help but enjoy it - there's no point being nervous."

'Envy of any professional'

Speaking to WhatsOnStage, Lloyd Webber said: "One of the reasons I did my TV casting shows was to find new talent, and it's such a joy to come to a performance of one of my old shows and find some equally fantastic talent."

Trevor Nunn, who directed the original productions of Lloyd Webber's Cats and Starlight Express, echoed his sentiments. "It's impossible to believe we've just been in a drama shool watching a group of students," he said.

"First of all the physical circumstances of the theatre are the envy of any professional, and secondly the standard the students achieved was just astonishing."

Andrew Lloyd Webber with the cast of Evita
Andrew Lloyd Webber with the cast of Evita
© ArtsEd

The production was directed by a professional, Joey McKneely, who Nunn first employed as a skater in a production of Starlight Express in the States. "To have him here says it all," said Nunn, "not just his big-heartedness to come and do it, but the fact the school can attract somebody like him."

And regarding the performance of Melia-Redgrave, who was joined in the principal cast by Daniel Donskoy (Peron) and Olly Dobson (Che), he added: "If this had been televised she'd have a number one by Christmas."

Elaine Paige, who originated the role of Evita in the West End, was unable to make last night's performance but did send a good luck message to the students.

The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation donated £3.5million to ArtsEd, which is situated in Chiswick, to enable an extensive refurbishment of the theatre.

"I've been very lucky in my career and I think it's vitally important to give something back," Lloyd Webber added.

Evita continues at ArtsEd until 16 November. The title role is alternately performed by Katie Shearman.