Thirty years on and Evita is still packing them in. Billed as “the Theatrical Event of the Year”, the Liverpool Empire has launched the new tour of the perennial favourite during Capital of Culture year and, in all honesty, this production is as good as - if not better than - any of its predecessors.
When in 1943 a military regime seizes power in Argentina, young actress Eva Duarte sees her chance of capturing the heart of the country’s most powerful man, Jaun Peron, and so finally establish herself as the star she knows herself to be. Enthralling the county’s poor whilst always seeking to strengthen her own position, Evita is a classic story of how the people can be so easily dazzled by the sun when all they are used to is rain and how a life cut short can lead to immortality.
Everything about this production is spectacular with a capital “S”. The set is vast, yet so uncluttered the cast are allowed the space to perform unhindered, which in turn brings a snappiness to the proceedings that is usually absent.
The costumes, ranging from working class rags to upper class silks, are fabulous and – at times – changed with breathtaking rapidity, whereas the lights and the sound add extra dimensions all of their own and so bring extra vitality to the work.
But above all it is the performances that are most memorable, with last year’s Joseph wannabe, Seamus Cullen, and Mark Heenan almost stealing the limelight completely with acting and singing that is faultless and, in Cullen’s case, a humour that is not often associated with Che at all. Here, the revolutionary is a bit of a sarcastic soul, delivering quips and put downs easily though never detracting from the energy of songs such as “High Flying, Adored” and “The Money Keeps Rolling In (And Out)”.
Without a strong Eva there is not an Evita and, in Louise Dearman, Bill Kenwright has possibly discovered the best Eva of all. Diminutive in size she may be, but Dearman has a voice that is charged with the energy of a dozen power stations and the acting presence of any stage queen you care to mention.
During “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” and “You Must Love Me” especially, it is impossible not to let the flesh bubble into goose bumps as each and every one of the money notes is hit time and time again with devastating effect and jaw-dropping power.
Evita is a seminal show that has won awards the world over. This is a truly magnificent production of that show, with a truly magnificent star leading the way.