Evita, Arena, we came to adore you.
When I heard that Tina Arena had been cast in the titular role of Evita, I was sure it was a good choice. After witnessing her in the role, I couldn’t have been more convinced. She was astounding. and on the night I saw her – opening night – she was in great voice.
The role is a demanding one for the two leads – Eva Peron (Tina Arena) and Che (Kurt Kansley). For Eva, more so. Her songs have greater range and stretch. Eva is played with passion and feeling, Che is played as a cynic and is the chorus or clown of a classic play. His is loud and there is a constant dance between he and Evita on the truth of the Evita myth.
The musical starts with a funeral, as Che says, Oh What a Circus, and the scene is set. It then goes back to her early days as a young girl yearning for the big lights of Buenos Aires. This, I thought was the most difficult part for Arena. She is no longer that young girl, but when she began to rise as the star, Arena was in her element. She plays Evita as many things – vulnerable, tough, strong, hard, soft, caring and more. She seems to have the life experience to give it veracity, and understanding. She is easily commanding, powerful and wholly owns her stage.
For the orchestra this is a musical with strong tones of rock opera, the genre in which composer and lyricist Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice had begun their relationship in Jesus Christ Superstar just a couple of years earlier. I had forgotten the brilliance of this score. There is good pace and consistency. The musical has many beautiful songs, including the haunting Another Suitcase in Another Hall sung here by Alexis Van Maanen.
Evita truly makes the most of the South American rhythms and motifs and the lyrics are really Rice at his best. I have to admit one of my favourite lines of his lyrics are from the song Rainbow High – when Eva is on the ascendance.
“I came from the people, they need to adore me
So Christian Dior me from my head to my toes”
“I’m their saviour, that’s what they call me
So Lauren Bacall me, anything goes”
Rice says that he wishes he’d chosen another actress who was big in 1947 for that line – the rhyme not being what he thinks it should. “Vivien Leigh me”, he says would have been better. I, for one, think his original idea stands the test of time and I remain happy with it.
The production is by legendary Broadway director Hal Prince and is very Broadway. There is great use of video which sets the scene perfectly at the beginning with lots of footage of Evita and her funeral. Though it seems modern it is also from Prince’s original concept and is used at important times through the musical – sometimes distracting, at other times it provides great context. The Peron’s visit to Europe was particularly wonderful to watch.
There are so many opportunities in Evita for Arena to showcase her magnificent vocal range. High Flying, Adored, is gorgeous and, of course, Don’t Cry for Me Argentina is a showstopper.You Must Love Me, the song especially written for the 1996 Madonna movie version of the musical is truly beautiful – and deserving of the Oscar. I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You is another vocal gem and also boasts Prince’s touch with a couple of stunning tango dancers mirroring the Peron’s relationship through their sensuous movements.
Sydney first saw Evita in 1981. I was there with my mum and I truly believe it is time for a return. It was interesting for me to see the story itself in a more sympathetic light. As a child, I saw things much more in black and white and felt more aligned with Che. This time Evita is definitely my heroine.
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