“The lady’s got potential”
Right, first things first, Marti Pellow’s name is deliberately bigger than Madalena Alberto’s on the poster. Really? He may have the greater name recognition factor, indeed Popped In Souled Out was one of the first cassette albums I ever owned, but is the show called Che? It is not, it is called Evita. And more significantly, in the role of Eva Perón, Alberto delivers an utterly magnificent performance (one which should give Anna-Jane Casey pause for thought in the recently rewritten Forbidden Broadway, star quality indeed…) which far outshadows Pellow’s perfunctory work. Simply put, this is not a West End-standard leading man turn and so demanding higher billing than the show’s true star feels even more inexcusable.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s show has been touring the country since May 2013 and has now turned up at the Dominion Theatre to finish its run with a seven week stint in the West End. It’s quite a successful transfer too – Matthew Wright’s design holds up well on the vast stage and directors Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright ensure a sense of grandeur infuses this story of the rise to power of Eva Perón under the auspices of her husband Juan who became the Argentine president. Creatively, the only disappointment comes in Bill Deamer’s choreography which lacks the organic Latin spirit that so elevated the last West End revival (the explosive power of that ‘Buenos Aires’ is one of my all-time favourite theatrical memories).
But that barely matters when Portuguese singer/songwriter/musical theatre actress Alberto is on stage. Her Eva starts off as a scrappy little thing but her fierce ambition soon shines through as she clambers up the social ladder as best she knows how, ending up where she was surely destined to be, as First Lady. Her voice is stunning throughout but where she really impresses is in her acting – every line of ‘Don’t Cry For Argentina’ is suffused with scarcely believing wonder, the bitter crack of emotion in a heart-breaking ‘You Must Love Me’ aches from every movement of her broken body. She is just glorious to watch and to listen to and single-handedly justifies the return of this show to the West End.
Which sadly exacerbates the weakness of Pellow’s performance as narrator Che, lacking any real sort of precision, whether in his movement or in a sometimes slurred vocal which does no justice to Tim Rice’s lyrics. Far more successful is Ben Forster as a hugely charismatic Magaldi and Matthew Cammelle’s patrician Perón also comes across strongly along with Sarah McNicholas’ mistress giving a beautifully lyrical account of ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’. And that is what shines through here, the strength of Lloyd Webber’s score, its timeless power feeling as strong as it ever has and losing none of its musical intelligence as motifs and phrases wind their way through the show and into unshakeable, pleasurable earworms.