The story of Eva Peron, as told by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, capsulizes the life of the Argentine first lady of the 40s and 50s, into two hours.
As Webber and Rice based their telling of the story on the book ‘Evita: The Woman and the Whip’, there are questions as to the accuracy of this account. But what the hey, it’s a musical. Many historians claim the book was told from the side of non-Peronism.
Webber and Rice weren’t exactly at the top of their game when they released the first ‘Evita’ album in 1976. They had just come off the back of the 1975 flop ‘Jeeves’ right after reinventing opera with the now classic ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’. Evita jumps back to the Superstar template to frame the Eva Peron story.
Like their main character in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, ‘Evita’ is portrayed as a saviour/superstar (and both characters die at 33 too). Webber would develop a partner with his characters that became evident from ‘JC Superstar’ to ‘Evita’ to ‘Cats’.
Musically, Evita is kept to the proven and successful formula of Jesus Christ Superstar. Webber and Rice use similar styles to give Evita the same musical dynamic that made Jesus Christ Superstar flow and a hit.
This new Australian production is all built around Tina Arena as Evita but it is Paulo Szot as Juan Perón and Kurt Kansley as Che who set-up the boundaries of the story for Arena to work.
Baritone Paulo Szot is a seasoned performer who started musical training at age five in Brazil and later studied in Poland. He then returned home to São Paulo to make his operatic debut in II Barbiere di Sivigila.
Kurt Kansley is also an experienced theatre performer who has been on stage in the West End and appeared in the recent Australian production of Jesus Christ Superstar for The Production Company.
What Tina lacked as a ‘poperatic’ performer was carried by the more experienced Szot and Kansley. Having the key role of Eva Peron also gave Tina the best songs of the show and this was where she shone. The overacting was virtually ignored when the voice was singing ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’, the focus song of this musical.
Eva Peron was like a pop star in Argentina. Her story is the classic rags to riches tale. She came from poverty to achieve one of the highest political positions in her country. She was a political Marilyn Monroe and like Monroe who also died in her 30s, ‘the candle burned out long before the legend ever did’.
On a scale of Andrew Lloyd Webber shows from ‘Jeeves’ to ‘Phantom of the Opera’ Evita definitely sits in the top half just behind ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ but well in front of ‘Cats’.