THE Grand Opera House is enjoying a run of high-profile musical tours, following late-April’s Tonight’s The Night and May’s 20th Century Boy with the revived rock opera Evita.
After the Rod Stewart and Marc Bolan songbooks, here is one of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s best scores, dating from 1976 but not sounding dated as it tells the story of Argentine First Lady Eva Perón, second wife of Argentine president Juan Perón, tracing her early life, rise to power and charity work, all the way to her death aged only 33 in 1952.
Bob Tomson and impresario Bill Kenwright’s superb touring production has played Hull New Theatre and Leeds Grand Theatre already, but York’s wait until the tour’s last week has been worth it.
Through the years, the role of Evita has passed from West End divas Elaine Paige and Marti Webb to American pop queen Madonna to Argentine actress Elena Roger and onwards to Madalena Alberto, originally from Lisbon, Portugal, but now well established in London’s West End and, as it turns out, an inspired choice.
She is joined on the show’s front line by Mark Heenehan, reactivating his Juan Perón from the 2008 tour and another long run in 2011, and Wet Wet Wet frontman Marti Pellow, who has transferred to musicals – along with his abundance of fans – with elan and commercial success. He has made a habit of playing characters with darkness around the edges, from The Witches Of Eastwick to Jekyll And Hyde: The Musical, and here he adds Che, a one-man Greek chorus representation of Che Guevara.
Pellow’s Che is forever emerging from the shadows as the conscience of the Argentine people while also forming a kind of love triangle with Peron and Eva. In his own words, Pellow has to “go from one to ten” in Che’s signature song, Oh What A Circus, and he handles that consummately, later singing the ballad High Flying Adored with Alberto’s Eva with all the charm of his pop hits. He also has a haunting stillness on stage that adds to the sense of foreboding.
Heenehan keeps returning to Juan Perón, a sure indication that he plays him to the manner born. He is a big man (he once starred as simple giant Lenny in Of Mice And Men at Harrogate Theatre) with a big, operatic voice and a suitably presidential air.
If Pellow and Heenehan’s star-quality turns could have been predicted, the casting of Madalena Alberto as Eva proves to be an ace card, after already excelling as Fantine in the 25th anniversary production of Les Miserables and as Piaf at the Leicester Curve last year.
The score is noted for its profusion of high notes but Alberto rises beautifully to that challenge, singing with drama and passion and none of the histrionics that can tarnish this role. As Eva weakens in the throes of fatal illness, Alberto’s singing matches that condition yet remains so clear. Spellbinding
Evita, Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday, 7.30pm plus Wednesday and Saturday matinees, 2.30pm. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or atgtickets.com/york
Please note: The role of Juan Peron is now played by Andrew C Wadsworth.