Review / Tina’s ‘Evita’ misses the mystique

Musical theatre / “Evita”. Director Hal Prince. At Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House, until November 3. Reviewed by HELEN MUSA

Tina Arena as Evita. Photo courtesy of Opera Australia

HISTORY may not have been overly kind to the late Eva Duarte Perón, once first lady of Argentina, but Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber gave it their best shot in trying to elevate her to become a figure of mystic proportions – a latter day Jesus Christ.

The current production of “Evita” at Sydney Opera House doesn’t do anything to enhance her image. In a lacklustre production largely imported from South Africa and director by that doyen of musicals, Hal Prince, this “Evita” sees a cast of capable singers barely going through the motions of inhabiting their characters as the musical follows the journey of a Eva from a small town girl to “Santa Evita”, the saint that she made herself for the common people, the “shirtless ones” of Argentina.

It’s not quite The Greatest Story Ever Told, but with some enticing tango rhythms and at least three show stopping numbers – the famous “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” the cheesy “On This Night of a Thousand Stars”, sung by Michael Falzon as Eva’s one-time boyfriend Magaldi, and the set piece, “Where am I Going To?” sung by Alexis van Maanen as Perón’s discarded teenage mistress and later reprised by Evita herself.

The pervasive tango rhythms give rise to some choreography by Larry Fuller, in this case of the most ordinary kind – goose-stepping soldiers, side-stepping socialites and two not-very-Argentine tango dancers occasionally decorating the side of the stage.

Kurt Kansley, centre, as Che with Eva’s ‘shirtless ones’. Photo courtesy of Opera Australia

Upstage is a magnificent kaleidoscope of real-life scenes from the life of Evita, not least footage from a movie made in the 1940s when she was a B-grade movie star.

Tina Arena as Eva Perón can sing – that’s a given. And in this production she has a stunning array of period costumes, but she never gives us a hint of the mystique of Santa Evita, the woman who brought the vote to Argentine women.

Kurt Kansley is the commentator Che, always costumed to look like Che Guevara but really a play on the fact that “che” is the Argentine word for mate, the everyman of the show. He is performed with passion and vigour by Kansley, but as with most of the characters, the diction is unclear. He is the equivalent of Judas Iscariot in “Jesus Christ Superstar” and he obviously has problems with the super-ambitious Eva. Che is the pivotal character in this musical, but we can’t hear what he’s saying.

One enticing thing about the production is the level of dry humour that accompanies the rise and rise of the First Lady.

Another, almost worth the price a ticket, is the magnificent Brazilian baritone Paulo Szot playing Juan Domingo Perón. As written, he’s pretty much of a cipher, Szot brings to the stage the only genuine moment of emotion as he confronts his ailing wife to tell her the obvious – she’s dying.

Of course dying was the best political move Evita ever made and there was more to come, as her embalmed the body was shuffled around Europe for 17 years.

With that information, the production ends, and we are not much the wiser.

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