So what on earth would Shakey (William not Stevens) have made of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s monster show? Not a lot, I’ll wager.
Evita. It’s a bit of an icon, up there with The Lion King et al, a show to see before one croaks. Reputation, reputation, reputation. There’s that song about Argentina too, you know the one. It’s a West End smash, a global hit, amazing, fantastic, unmissable etc. etc.
So when yours truly took up his regular seat in the sumptuous Empire auditorium I did so expecting to be whisked away to the sultry, sexy Buenos Aires suburbs of the 1940s where I would be regaled by a rags-to-riches story of an actress who became a national icon.
I would gasp in awe at the beauty of this story, weep at the tragedy, glower at the injustice. Blimey, this was going to be a night to remember. Armed with my supply of M & Ms (grapes sold out) I took my seat.
And therein the problems began.
Right from the very off there was something not quite right about this production. It wasn’t the cast, it rarely is. For the first ten minutes of this show a sombre funereal air prevailed. They had come to bury Eva Peron, an entire nation in mourning. It was a perfectly executed scene, palls, priests and choirs.
But oh how it went on, and on and on. Starting at the end and working backwards is a standard tactic of the dramatist, only you don’t really want or need to hammer the point. This scene, large, lavish and sombre would have in fact made a perfect…ending!
And so it went on. Full on. Evita is a typical Lloyd-Webber production – it’s frenetic and with its insistence on assailing the ears, it’s very, very loud. If you miss some of the narrator’s parts half-sung, half-shouted (Che Guevara?) then like me, you could well find yourself struggling to keep up.
Noise however is not the biggest problem with this production. If only it were. With the exception of Don’t Cry for me Argentina, the quality of songs is rather disappointing, which might explain why the Don’t Cry motif is repeated through the show. Essentially, this is a one hit show.
And it just gets worse.
If you’re going to create a musical about a tragic heroine then said heroine has got to exhibit some pretty special qualities, right? As a minimum I want to experience her presence, charisma, and yes maybe her flaws too. I want this heroine to be larger than life, to compel, to dominate the stage. After all this is a story of a remarkable woman – so give me a remarkable woman!
Perhaps it was me, but I failed to see such a woman on the Liverpool Empire stage. What I did see was a rather ordinary actress with a musical theatre smile and a tendency towards the old jazz hands school of acting. Not entirely her fault. There’s very little in the way of charisma or indeed fragility for any actress to get to grips with here.
One minute she’s in a Buenos Aires club, one peculiarly lacking in any sort of ambience, and the next minute she’s wooing El Presidente! Whirlwind romance I guess you’d call it.
So what of that dusky, sultry Buenos Aires of the imagination, the place of throbbing, stabbing tango rhythms? Precisely. What of it?
With a set that starts off bright and bouncy and ends up…bright and bouncy, Eva’s journey from the peasantry to the presidential is rather, er… bright and bouncy. No menace here, nor any passion. Nor any drama. Lloyd Webber’s script/book is curiously devoid of drama.
So will Eva get her man? Well, yes actually.
And all the time that noise! A Shrill, shrieking cacophony of voices. I found myself praying for something to happen, fire alarm, act of God, something, anything to make it stop. After a while, numbed by the chaos on stage I started to consider plans to renovate my conservatory.
All of which I guess just goes to show reputation is indeed ‘oft gained without merit.” Don’t believe the hype.