Evita, Erindale Theatre*

6 Mar

* I attended the opening night of Evita as a guest of the Canberra Philharmonic Society

There’s an overwhelming amount of events on in and around Canberra at the moment. In addition to Canberra Day, Enlighten (and the Noodle Markets) and the Balloon Spectacular, we’re spoilt with some pretty charming theatre – Mary Poppins starts next week at the Canberra Theatre, and this week has seen the launch of Tuesdays with Morrie at The Q as well as Evita at Erindale Theatre.

Unlike Tuesdays with Morrie, I know nothing about Evita. Well, almost nothing. I know it’s an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, that Madonna played the titular role in the movie adaptation in the mid-90s, and that it’s about the wife of a dictator. I also remember as a kid I hated the famous song for which Evita is known and would warble – in that way that screams ‘only child’ – ‘Don’t cry for me I’ve got tinea’. Classy, I know.

I last visited Erindale Theatre in 2009 for Philo’s production of West Side Story, which I loved. The community theatre is a large one, seating 450 people (Playhouse at the Canberra Theatre seats just over 600 by comparison). Its foyer is buzzing busily. Inside, the space is tiered steeply, making appreciation of the set easy.

And it’s a bold set to match a bold production: after all, it’s a rock opera with a huge ensemble cast – at the curtain call I count 45 actors. And it’s a delight.

Kelly Roberts stars at Eva Peron – a poor girl with serious ambitions, who uses her various wiles to move to Buenos Aires and spiral upwards through social circles and a media career. Eva’s grand ambitions are matched by her ego, and cynical narrator Che (Grant Pegg) delights in drawing attention to this. As Eva’s status elevates, so too does that of a soldier named Juan Peron (Tony Falla), who outwits his comrades to advance through the ranks. Eva’s and Colonel Juan’s paths cross, and she strongly suggests just how good they might be for each other. Eva uses her radio broadcast to build public support for Juan. Eventually they wed, and he becomes president of Argentina.

Act II suggests some of Eva’s more charitable acts, but mostly reveals how Eva’s ambitions – including on the world stage – are beset by the reality of politics, and sadder realities of life.

Evita is told almost entirely through song and the music is particularly complex and varied throughout – some pieces bore or confuse me, but others absolutely enthrall me. Roberts, throughout, is superb, and her rendition of Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina is exquisite. But this prowess would be meaningless if it wasn’t for Roberts’ nuanced portrayal at each stage – from a young girl seizing an opportunity, to a confident and passionate young woman, to a woman in denial of her declining ability. Eva is in almost every scene which makes the strength of Roberts’ effort put into the entire performance even more remarkable. Pegg, too, has one of the most complicated roles with a range of props and input into songs, but doesn’t distract from Roberts’ performance. Beth Deer’s Another Suitcase in Another Hall surprises me as one of the best songs in the musical.

For Act I, the sound is off – echoing strangely, and the microphones of the stars come on a few seconds too late after they begin to sing in their quickfire exchanges. The distraction is actually painful against such a wonderful musical score. Thankfully, this is entirely resolved by Act II. I also have to remind myself that this is the story of Eva Peron’s short life, and so that means there’s a decent portion devoted to her death. Twenty minutes of it seems over the top and makes me antsy, but I can begrudgingly note it’s a way of reflecting the impact her death had on the nation.

Evita is a rousing night out, and Philo has spared no expense in effort and ability in bringing it to life in Canberra. I highly recommend it.

Date: Thursday, 5 March 2015

Where: Erindale Theatre, McBryde Crescent, Wanniassa

Cost: I attended as a guest of Philo; adults are $49

Want more? Buy tickets and read more here.

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One Response to “Evita, Erindale Theatre*”

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  1. Next to Normal, ANU Arts Centre* | In The Taratory - July 9, 2016

    […] in Act II which are powerful and aggressive. Grant Pegg (great in last year’s production of Evita) and Kaitlin Nihill (this year’s Beauty and the Beast) are strong throughout, while I would […]

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