We review Evita, playing at Marina Bay Sands and bound for Broadway!
All musicals (and musical productions) are not created equal. But when you see the names Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, it’s a good first sign. Throw in legendary Broadway producer/director Hal Prince (he’s won more Tony Awards than anyone else in history!), and now we’re cooking.
Prince, aged 90, was the original West End and Broadway director of Evita – the story of the rags-to-riches ascension of Argentina’s charismatic first lady and “spiritual leader,” Eva Perón – and is also directing the revival production currently playing right here in Singapore until 18 March.
After catching a performance earlier this week I am still humming the songs to myself – the show is a dazzling, profoundly moving treat for the senses.
Following subsequent stops in Australia and Japan, Evita will head to Broadway later this year. While I’ve found the “Broadway” credentials of some touring musicals here to be bit suspect, that is most definitely not the case with Evita: British West End actress Emma Kingston was handpicked by Webber and Rice to play the title role, and she has got a major set of pipes on her. Rest assured, she does not disappoint when belting out “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”.
I imagine it would be pretty tough to step into a role made famous by the likes of Patti LuPone and Madonna, but Kingston pulls it off. Diminutive but feisty, she defiantly stomps around the stage in giant heels and rocks some truly gorgeous costumes that perfectly evoke the fashions of the 1940s and 50s, like a luminous silk bathrobe, frothy ballgown, nipped-waist Dior suit, and all manner of amazing hats.
With his rumpled fatigues and combat boots, the show’s omniscient narrator, Che (played brilliantly here by South African actor Jonathan Roxmouth), stands in stark contrast to Evita’s dazzling jewels and perfect coifs. While the character was originally conceived as something of a working class everyman (which is how he was portrayed by Antonio Banderas in the 1996 movie), Prince has chosen to model him after Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara.
Roxmouth has a rich singing voice (good thing, since there are virtually no lines of spoken dialogue), and moves with a sly, jocular gait. I loved the running gag of how he kept getting escorted offstage by Evita’s sunglassed security detail.
The show’s set design is relatively sparse but makes smart choices; a giant video screen projects real-life images and footage of Evita and her husband, the Argentine general and president, Juan Perón, and manages to convey the massive crowds that bolstered their rise.
My favorite scene, however, was the moment where Eva and Juan first meet (backstage at a musical benefit for earthquake victims). While they size each other up during the sexy “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You,” a couple tangos on the stage nearby. The scene is electric and conveys so much about this incredibly calculated politcal match. I also particularly loved the choreography and bright blue army costumes in “Perón’s Latest Flame.”
One of the most interesting aspects of Evita is trying to figure out where it comes down on the controversial figure: does it glorify her? Or is it a sly critique? Was she a badass woman in an era dominated by men, or a greedy and manipulative floozy of an actress (as was insinuated by some of her elite critics, who of course all had agendas of their own)?
She was undisputably smart and stylish with a better understanding of the “poor masses” than most (given her own origins in rural poverty, and the fact that she struck out on her own in Buenos Aires at the tender age of 15), but was she also power-hungry and corrupt?
Perhaps she was all of these things; history is rife with male political leaders who were deeply flawed, yet female leaders like Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir and of course Hillary Clinton were all held to a vastly different (and, I would argue, fairly impossible) standard. Eva Perón wasn’t an elected leader, but she certainly carried out some of the functions and responsibilities of one, and was probably more beloved by her people than any politician ever could be.
None of this takes away from the musical’s talented cast, fantastically catchy songs, or beautiful costumes – it just adds an extra layer of intrigue that will hopefully only enhance your appreciation for everything they manage to pull off. Enjoy the show, mamas!
Evita is running from now through 18 March at MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands. Performance times: Tue-Fri, 8pm; Sat, 2pm and 8pm; Sun 1pm and 6pm.Tickets from $55; click here to purchase through Sistic.
Image #3 by by Christiaan Kotze. All other images by Pat Bromilow-Downing