TUESDAY 24TH JANUARY 2017 – Empire Theatre, Liverpool – Review by Tate James, originally written for West End Wilma

It is hard to believe that Evita was first released as a concept album in 1976. Over forty years later and Bill Kenwright’s current touring production feels eerily relevant in a world where the news is dominated by politics and unlikely ascensions to power. Tim Rice’s lyrics, such as political leaders opposing “Foreign domination of our industries” and Officers spouting “One always picks the easy fight”, are sadly not unfamiliar nowadays.

Evita follows working class Eva Duarte from her humble beginning’s in Junín, Argentina, to becoming the first Lady of Argentina. Shunned by the middle classes who were threatened by her arrival in their circles, adored by the working classes who revered her as a Saint; still to this day it is unclear if she was, on the whole, a blessing or a curse on Argentina. What is clear is that her ambition and drive allowed her to escalate through the ranks of society with impressive speed to become the Voice and Heart of a nation, before her untimely death at the age of 33.

Following in the footsteps of Elaine Paige, Patti LuPone and even Madonna in the 1996 movie adaptation, it is Emma Hatton’s turn to don the bleach blonde wig and win our hearts, just as Eva won the nation’s. Hatton excels in her fresh and calculated delivery of Eva. Her time as Leading Lady in the West End production of Wicked shines through in her ability to maintain the ambitious young girl throughout her transformation into the most powerful woman in the country. Though it is her voice that seals the deal. Her powerhouse delivery of “Buenos Aires” and “Rainbow High” are an exciting contrast to the subtle beauty of her renditions of “You Must Love Me” and the iconic “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”.

Kevin Stephen-Jones is her perfect match as Perón, with a beautiful baritone voice and commanding performance, and Gian Marco Schiaretti as the enigmatic Ché, is every bit the leading man we all want to see. Statuesque and exotic; he grabs our attention from the first scene and narrates Eva’s journey with a blend of mystery and aggression, seemingly the only one to question her motives to her face.

The incredibly talented cast are led by the skilled musical direction of David Steadman, who brings out every flavour in Lloyd Webber’s rich and luxurious score, from the latin sounds of the argentine tango to choral requiem, rock and beautiful ballads, and even in the dissonant sounds of the sung through dialogue. This musical was most definitely conceived during Lloyd Webber’s finest years and, though there are some scenes where the politics overpowers the melody, director Bob Tomson has done a fine job in keeping the motives clear but the pace moving along.

In this production, Kenwright has mastered how to present a UK Tour, with a large ensemble wearing an endless display of costumes, an impressively simplistic set used to its full capabilities and the addition of a chorus of local children and supernumerary actors to build the crowd scenes seamlessly. Unlike many touring productions, this does not feel scaled down, but rather, it feels like it was designed to fit the vast auditorium of the Liverpool Empire Theatre.

Whether you loved Michelle Obama or turn your gaze to Melania Trump, the role of the first lady is both influential and iconic, not just in the country which their husband governs, but the world over; and this tale of the impact of one such first lady is well worth a trip to see.

As Perón sings “can you recall the last time they loved anyone at all?”

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