Evita at the Phoenix TheatreCultureTheatre
Plain pasta is technically a meal. It’s a last resort, and not exactly appetising, but it is a meal nevertheless. Bill Kenwright’s production of Evita is plain pasta. It’s technically a West End musical. It goes through all the motions of a West End musical. But boy does it leave you unsatisfied. (This comparison might actually be a bit too harsh on plain pasta.)
Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s show charts the rise and fall of Eva Peron: Argentine saint, mouth of the people and calculating political figurehead. Or it does, in theory. Evita has no blood or dirt beneath its manicured nails, no historical weight, just a litany of tropes that make people hate musical theatre.
Everything carries the waft of naffness. Matthew Wright’s set is a series of arches ad infinitum, taunting the audience with their disappearance before returning, unchanged, seconds later. Bill Deamer’s choreography is basically West End 101. And the song arrangements have the bombast and grandeur of a Casio keyboard.
Take A New Argentina. The first act closer should be the show’s One Day More moment. Yet instead of swelling crowds roused into revolution there are a few chorus members waving flags. This isn’t to say there’s no room for stripped-back musicals in the West End – far from it. But there’s a difference between stripped back and cheap, and Evita falls firmly in the latter category.
As for the performances, proficient but personality-less is the best that can be said. Kevin Stephen-Jones’s Peron might as well not be there. Che Guevara is meant to be the audience’s gateway into the story, but Gian Marco Schiaretti never connects, rushing through narration before blandly belting out tunes like an X Factor contestant on musicals week. Emma Hatton fares best, but it’s a classic case of flawless voice and not much else – even her Don’t Cry For Me Argentina fails to elicit the requisite tingles.
This production has clearly been brought in by the Phoenix Theatre to fill the gap left by Gary Barlow’s underperforming The Girls. And that’s fine. What’s not OK is how little has been done to elevate it from a national tour production to one worthy of the West End. No disrespect to the regional theatres the show has visited in the last few years, but there’s an important contextual difference between the two, one mainly, but not solely, related to price. This Evita may have originated at the Dominion Theatre just a stone’s throw away, but its travels have left it dead behind the eyes.
Photo: Pamela Raith Photography
Evita is at the Phoenix Theatre from 2nd August until 14th October 2017. Book your tickets here.