BWW Reviews: EVITA, Bristol Hippodrome, October 7 2013
I hadn't seen Evita since the 2006 London revival, and when I took my seat at the Bristol Hippodrome this evening I was excited to once again be transported back to Argentina, and let the story of one of the country's most well-known historical figures play out in front of me.
As the orchestra began to play those first few bars, I was reminded of how wonderful the score is, with its swelling melodies, punchy rhythms and silky Latin American vibes. Evita is, for me, perhaps one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's best works, with personal favourites being little gems such as New Argentina, a song with purpose and determination, and I'd Be Surprisingly Good For You, a sultry tango number, hiding in amongst the more famous classics such as Don't Cry For Me Argentina and Another Suitcase In Another Hall.
For this evening's performance, we were treated to two understudies: Hannah Grover as Eva Peron, and Joe Maxwell as Juan Peron. Neither disappointed in their delivery, and Grover in particular was utterly marvellous, demonstrating wonderful character development as the story unfolded. Starting off as a spritely, somewhat petulant teenager, Grover made a gradual, seamless yet unmistakable transition to the shrewd, manipulative, power-hungry woman who won the hearts of her nation. Grover played both sides of the Argentine icon with aplomb, oozing charm and warmth when rallying her loyal followers, yet spouting venom in private to those who crossed her. Despite not shying away from the uglier side of Eva Peron's character, Grover still managed to utterly entrance the audience and earn their sympathy. During one of the final scenes of the show, I had one of those moments where I was so drawn in that I completely forgot that I was sitting in a theatre with nearly two thousand other people, and that is a testament to Grover's raw talent.
As Juan Peron, Maxwell had a lovely tone to his voice, and the chemistry between the two leads was palpable, despite the fact that, with both of them being understudies, I would imagine that they don't get to perform together very often. Sarah McNicholas gave a delightful performance as Peron's mistress, and was, in my opinion, one of the highlights of the evening. She had a beautiful voice and a wonderful balance between fragility and strength, which all worked together to create a character with whom the audience could empathise. I'm afraid to say that, for me, the weakest link was Marti Pellow as Che, the cynical narrator of events.
The big dance numbers were thoroughly enjoyable and enchanting, bringing some extra life and vigour to the piece, with all of the ensemble truly throwing themselves into their roles. I would have liked to have seen more such dance breaks throughout the piece, as I felt there were times when some numbers called for an extra burst of energetic movement and added vim. As a fan of the tango, I would like to have seen more use of that particular dance form in certain songs, especially during I'd Be Surprisingly Good For You, a deliciously flirtatious encounter between Peron and Eva.
Evita is a classic and much-loved Andrew Lloyd Webber show not to be missed, and if the audience reaction this evening is anything to go by, then it's going to be a hit in Bristol, so buy your ticket now before it's too late.
Evita is playing at the Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 12 October.