Mar 13, 2018

[Theater] Evita (Lunchbox Theatricals)

By now a lot of us have been exposed to Evita through the Madonna movie released in 1996, one of the first in the "modern era" wave of movie musicals. But that wasn't quite like the original stage play and I've been eager to see it staged one way or another.

My recent trips to Singapore included spotting the signs promoting the touring company of Evita being in the country but at the time it was too early. One thing led to another and another trip came along just in time to catch then show in its final weeks.

While it's not my favorite musical, I admit that I know the songs better than I'd like to admit because whatever childhood. So I was generally looking forward to how they'd present things on stage versus how they were done in the movie. And end result was interesting but not quite what I had hoped it would have been. So let's dissect that.

Synopsis: Evita is a about the life of Eva Perón with music by Andrew Llyod Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice. This Singapore touring production produced by Lunchbox Theatrical Productions was directed by Hal Prince and staged at the Marina Bay Sands Theatre from 23 February to 18 March 2018.

The show opens with our narrator Che (Jonathan Roxmouth) setting the stage as the news of the death of Eva Perón is shared with the crowds. Then we flashback to her early days as Eva Duarte (Emma Kingston) and her initial romance with tango singer Agustin Magaldi (Anton Luitingh). But she's a girl with ambition and she's determined to elevate herself somehow - and for her that path is to get to Buenos Aires.

Eventually they do tour there and she begins to familiarize herself with the ruling military. Eventually she encounters Juan Perón (Robert Finlayson), and the two hit it off pretty much immediately. And soon she becomes an instrumental force driving Juan to do more than just be another general and to step up and become a true leader of the people. All this even though she's suffering some some ailment causing her great pain.

What I Liked: Roxmouth as Che is the real standout performance in this production and looking at his theater resume helps explain that. He has a serious set of pipes and knows how to use his voice well to maximum effect. He has great stage presence and knows how to draw just enough attention to himself while on-stage in order to support the narrative.

The set for the play also had a lot of interesting moving parts to it. I already thought the revolving door that they used to show Evita pretty much sleeping with the entire military hierarchy, another rotating platform made the big "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" song pretty memorable (including the extras running back and forth to match the new orientation of Evita on the platform. Those little theater tricks are always a lot of fun.

What Could Have Been Better: There was something odd aboutt the pacing of the show that made almost every scene feel like a beat or two too long to the point that it started to feel draggy. I know Evita as a musical has never been the most existing piece as it is largely an interpretation of historical events, but I still felt this was more an opportunity in terms of directing more than the source material.

The play also suffered from a lot of less than ideal performance moments. Songs that included notable harmonies were disrupted by the singers not finding the harmony again and again. Highly choreographed numbers that were meant to convey military discipline weren't perfectly in sync and thus each moment out of turn was highly noticeable. And given this was towards the end of the run, you'd think that they'd be more polished in terms of their performance at this particular venue but things just weren't quite at the level we hoped.

TL;DR: Evita is still a powerful play that presents the life of Evita Perón in a coy way that teases many different posible interpretations of her life. Whether she's actually a sinner or a saint is something that you'll have to decide for yourself by the end of the show. This particular staging gets a decent 3 iterations of Evita appearing on stage at the same time out of a possible 5.

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