Reviewed by Louise Watts
I had the pleasure yesterday evening (Tuesday 30 May 2017) of attending the opening night of Evita at the Orchard Theatre in Dartford with my 17-year-old daughter. I have always been a keen musical fan but for some reason this is one show that I had never seen before. I was aware of the storyline and the fact that it had been made into a film starring Madonna but that was all I knew. This made it more exciting for me as I was going with no real expectations other than the fact it was a musical created by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice and that to me meant it should be amazing.
The musical tells the story of Maria Eva Duarte, born in small village about 150 miles west of Buenos Aires in 1919. She had a very difficult start in life and moved to Buenos Aires aged 15 years to try and make a success of her beloved acting. After a rather vibrant start, her career is flying and at a charity event following an earthquake, she meets Colonel Juan Peron. Their relationship develops and when Juan becomes President, she is his best PR tool. She becomes heavily involved in politics and is a great believer in women’s rights including having the right to vote. Tragically, after securing this right, and with her husband running for a second term as President she casts her vote for him on her death bed. She passed away in July 1952 aged just 33 years. She is now known as “Spiritual Chief of the Nation”.
The musical tells part of the story through a narrator called Che, performed by Gian Marco Schiaretti. From the minute, he opened his mouth to sing, I was in awe. His voice was incredible. The sheer power with which he delivered “Oh what a Circus” was jaw dropping. This show was going to be amazing and I was really excited to be able to watch it unravel. His performance never faltered and the emotion in his singing and acting was an absolute delight to see and hear.
Eva Peron was played by the West End beauty Emma Hatton. Up until recently, Emma had been playing the lead role of Elphaba, the “bad” witch in Wicked. This has to be my favourite musical of all time and I have seen Emma perform this role several times giving me goose bumps with her rendition of “Defying Gravity”. I couldn’t wait to see her perform as Eva, a completely different role on all levels. She was outstanding and completely believable. It could have been Eva Peron telling her story. Her singing, dancing and acting were absolutely perfect and when she sang “Don’t cry for me Argentina”, I had to try very hard not to cry – tears of delight. I had shivers all over as she beautifully delivered the most iconic song from the show. The pressure to deliver this successfully must be immense but she had nothing to worry about. I would happily have listened to her sing that all night.
Eva’s husband, President Juan Peron was played by the dashing Kevin Stephen-Jones. Kevin has a vast amount of performing experience and it showed with his performance last evening. He was exceptional and completely believable. The most emotive scene for me was when his wife had died and he was sitting by her bed. It is very thought provoking when you reflect back on the fact that this a real story and real people were affected by this.
All the songs were written to tell the story perfectly, which is nothing short of what you would expect from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. My favourite without a doubt was “Don’t cry for me Argentina”, closely followed by Sarah O’Connor’s incredible rendition of “Another Suitcase in another Hall”. Full credit must also be given to the orchestra who were outstanding in their performance and without them there would be no show.
The set was a West End quality set and although very versatile was very simple to adapt. It really set the scene for the era and the location of the story. Costumes were incredible too and the soldiers in their uniforms looked very handsome!
The running time was approximately two and a half hours including an interval and I think this was a completely appropriate time frame to tell the story. During the interval, there was plenty of opportunity to use the theatres facilities including the bars and snacks shop. The Orchard theatre is a delightful theatre and it was a pleasure to see it full last evening. Everyone enjoyed the show and this was demonstrated at the end with a standing ovation. In fact, when I was in the queue to pay for parking at the end of the night there was a man happily humming “Don’t cry for me Argentina” oblivious to everyone around him. It was absolutely lovely to see so many people buzzing after the show and talking about how wonderful it was. I had an absolutely wonderful evening and I am not sure why I left it so long to see Evita, however I was certainly not disappointed. It was well worth the wait. As far as recommending to others, I would say it is not appropriate for young children purely due to the complex story line but for all teenage children and adults, I would not hesitate to say “Get out there and see it”. An absolutely incredible, jaw dropping evening for all the right reasons.
Tickets cost from £22.50 to £44.50 (booking fees may apply).
Evita is at the Orchard Theatre in Dartford from 30 May to 3 June 2017, for more information or to book tickets visit orchardtheatre.co.uk or call the box office on 01322 220000.
The Orchard Theatre, Home Gardens, Dartford, DA1 1ED | 01322 220000