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Evita is a staple of the West End diet. Songs like Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, Another Suitcase in Another Hall and You Must Love Me have long transcended the construct of the show – all three of them, in fact, having found chart success since the concept album first came to light in 1976.
Put simply, it’s a mega-hit. In one way or another, the show has existed on the UK stage nearly consistently for at least the last decade, and the libretto is largely considered to be one of the most tuneful musicals ever written.
The Oscar-nominated film version, starring Madonna as Argentine first lady Eva Perón (formerly Eva Duarte), pushed the now iconic musical further into mainstream culture. In it, the heralded Madonna is joined by Jonathan Pryce as husband and President Juan Perón, and Antonio Banderas as revolutionary Che Guevera.
Age hasn’t seemed to weary the show either. Indeed, during such a time of political turmoil and heightened interest, Evita’s administrative themes and power-hungry drive are more potent today than ever. It makes for a meaty show.
In this UK tour production, which takes over the Phoenix Theatre until 14 October, it’s Emma Hatton – fresh from playing Elphaba in smash hit Wicked – in the title role. She tackles the role of Eva Perón head on, with an impressive voice and a striking theatrical presence from the off.
Eva begins fierce and bold, carrying the Duarte name, which serves to underscore the would-be leader’s rough-and-tumble scramble to get to the top. Early numbers like Beware of the City, Buenos Aires and I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You fizz with ambitious determination; they’re cheekily played, almost naughty in tone, before giving way to a more thoughtful, softer side of Perón, which is never better illustrated than during the much-lauded Don’t Cry for Me Argentina (which Hatton nails by the way) and the troubadour-esque tones of High Flying Adored.
There’s fine support from the rest of the cast, too. The handsome Gian Marco Schiaretti is suitably charismatic as narrator Che, and Kevin Stephen Jones, as Argentine leader Juan Perón, finds a warm balance between political head honcho and doting husband. The ensemble, too, work hard to bring to the story to life, filling the Phoenix’s stage with ceaseless energy and pizzazz.
In the end though, it’s the songs that matter. Even today – decades after they were first heard – there’s a distinct bite to them that marries Lloyd Webber’s Argentinian rhythms with Rice’s acerbic, powerful lyrics to deliver an incredible sharp, energetic show.
Evita runs at the Phoenix Theatre, London, until 14 October. Get your tickets now at Ticketmaster.co.uk.