It’s an understatement to say that Andrew Lloyd Webber has made quite the impact on musical theatre. Evita is one of the impresario’s earlier hits — featuring music by Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, the show opened on the West End in 1978 and on Broadway in 1979. The musical contains such numbers as “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”, “High Flying Adored”, “On This Night of a Thousand Stars” and “Another Suitcase in Another Hall”. Now, fresh off engagements in Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa, the production has arrived in Singapore for the very first time.
inSing was at the press call for Evita on Tuesday, 27 February, at the MasterCard Theatres in Marina Bay Sands Singapore. The show is based on the life of Eva Perón, the Argentinian First Lady from 1946 to 1952 – affectionately referred to as “Evita”.
Eva grew up in the provincial town of Junín, and headed to Buenos Aires to pursue an acting career. She caught the eye of Colonel Juan Perón, who is elected the president of Argentina in 1946. Eva and her husband become polarising figures, attracting both worship and harsh criticism. The musical follows Eva from her teenage years to her death from cancer at the tragically young age of 33 in 1952. This is all narrated by Che, a one-man Greek chorus who is often cynical of Eva and the adoration she attracts.
Evita began life as a rock opera concept album in 1976, and it went on to receive major theatrical awards including the Tony and Olivier Awards for Best Musical. Luminaries including Elaine Paige and Patti LuPone have portrayed Eva. During the musical’s 2012 Broadway run, Elena Roger played Eva, opposite Ricky Martin as Che.
In 1996, the musical was adapted into a feature film directed by Alan Parker and starring Madonna, Antonio Banderas and Jonathan Pryce. The film won a Best Original Song Oscar for “You Must Love Me”, which has since been integrated into the stage production.
Evita is directed by Harold “Hal” Prince, the nigh-legendary theatre director who turns 90 this year. The Phantom of the Opera, Sweeney Todd and Cabaret are some of his other credits. “I’ve been working for him for 15 years, and no two days are alike,” Daniel Kutner, associate director to Prince, said. “He is filled with energy, and always thinking, always creative, always looking for the next project. He’s not somebody who rests on his laurels,” Kutner continued, adding that Prince is currently working on two brand new projects.
The cast is led by English actress Emma Kingston as Eva. Kingston’s mother is Argentinian, which gives her an added connection to the material. Kingston was hand-picked by Lloyd Webber and Rice to play Eva. At the press call, we watched Kingston perform three numbers: “What’s New Buenos Aires”, “High Flying Adored” and of course “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”.
“High Flying Adored” is mostly sung by Che, who is played by South African actor Jonathan Roxmouth. Roxmouth has starred in such shows as The Phantom of the Opera, Beauty and the Beast, West Side Story and Sunset Boulevard.
In Argentina, “Che” is slang for “friend”, somewhat akin to “dude”. The character was not initially intended to be Che Guevara, but director Prince patterned Che after the Argentinian-Cuban revolutionary. Guevara never met Eva or Juan Perón.
“What I’ve found is that you don’t talk at the audience, you talk to them. I get to connect and make eye contact and see people and check in with them throughout the show,” Roxmouth said of the role. “It’s really cool from that point of view because he’s not a standard narrator, he’s a narrator in the show and out of the show at the same time. Once the audience understands that, we have a lot of fun together, and I find that very rewarding.”
“Waltz for Eva and Che”, a number in the second act, is the culmination of the relationship between the First Lady and the narrator. “The audience, you can feel, are almost willing you to touch one another…and we just don’t,” Roxmouth said. He described Eva and Che as “these two incredible forces, like oil and water”, saying that it can be interpreted that Che is Eva’s conscience in the show.
The show also stars Robert Finlayson as Juan Perón and Anton Luitingh (who is also the resident director) as Augustin Magaldi.
Evita has attracted controversy, especially from within Argentina, because it generally depicts Eva in an unflattering light and as a conniving social climber obsessed with glamour and beauty. While it’s never been officially confirmed, it appears that Rice drew primarily from the biography The Woman with the Whip by Mary Main, which was very much anti-Peronist. Main’s book has been accused of overlooking the political and socio-political causes championed by Peronism, instead focusing on the seamier aspects of Eva’s rise to power.
Kutner hopes audiences will come in with an open mind. His take is that Evita is “about how we never truly know who our leaders are. We get the perception of them, we see them on TV, we hear them, but we don’t know who they are.” Kutner pointed out how Eva and Juan Perón were some of the first politicians to become media darlings and who embraced the flashbulbs of the press and the adoration of the public. The show begins with a depiction of Eva’s funeral procession, which snaked through the city of Buenos Aires.
Kutner called the cast “terrific and peerless,” noting how daunting a show it is to sing. “Because of the challenging notes and the range of this score, it can make mincemeat out of you unless you can really navigate it,” Kutner said.
Louis Zurnamer, the musical director and conductor, noted the complexity of the rock opera score, saying “it’s challenging from a historical point of view, it is not an easy musical and not every tune you’re going to sing in the shower tomorrow,” he said. “You know that you’re dealing with something very sophisticated.”
Billed as “powerful, passionate and political”, Evita promises transport audiences in Singapore to Argentina, to witness the heady life and times of a colourful and controversial figure, a woman who was a force to be reckoned with.
Evita is produced by Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, Base Entertainment Asia and David Atkins Enterprises in association with David Ian and Peter Toerien and by special arrangement with The Really Useful Group. The show runs in Singapore from 23 February to 18 March 2018, and tickets begin at $55 (excluding $4 booking fee).