Powerful Classic brought to life by Vibrant Modern Cast
By Louw Mulder
After 39 years, when the Original London Cast took to the stage for the inaugural performance of Evita, I was honoured to attend the opening performance of the same production at the Teatro in Montecasino, by Pieter Toerien Productions and David Ian Productions. Knowing the music very well, but with very little knowledge of what to expect from the original 1978 Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice staging, the excitement leading up to the curtain raise, was fully justified.
The set design for me was very minimalistic, yet very effective and efficient. The magnificent lighting design was a pivotal element that stood out for me, as it created and emphasised the mood, as intended by the creators of this musical. To be honest, very early into the first half, I thought frowning to myself: “Is this it?” But this was all part of the production. Just as Evita Peròn herself, the mood and design of this staging built up, grew stronger and bolder, and at the end, I could see the intentions of the creative design team coming full circle.
Besides the acclaimed music-lyrics duo of Lloyd Webber and Rice, this production of Evita was directed by the 1978 Director, Harold Prince, with the original choreography by Larry Fuller, and production design by Timothy O’Brien used in this production. “It’s been quite a while since the original production has been reproduced, and it is amazing to have this gem and the boldness of Tim Rice’s lyrics, which are in your face, revived again”, says Anton Luitingh, resident director of this world touring production. Also on this tour, award-winning, Duane Alexander, will travel as the resident Choreographer.
With this show’s creative design hailing from almost 40 years ago, a brand-new offering to this musical, is the experienced and superlative cast. I have to include this cliché phrase, because I think it is indeed a stellar cast. Hand-picked by Lloyd Webber, Rice and Prince, was Emma Kingston in the lead role. As with what appears to be the tendency in this production, I thought that Kingston’s portrayal started off shy, slightly reserved, building up to this powerhouse of a performance.
Apart from Kingston who joins this international tour from the United Kingdom, the rest of the cast are proudly South African, and include some of our best. I was personally thrilled to see two of my favourite stage giants, Jonathan Roxmouth and Anton Luitingh together on stage. The last time these two shared the stage, was with the 2009 production of Beauty and the Beast. “It was The Beast and Gaston together on stage again, but this time it was without masks”, Luitingh told me after the show. To see these two doing what they became known for, is reason enough not miss this show.
The rest of the cast include Robert Finlayson as Juan Peròn, and Isabella Jane as his Mistress. I was very impressed with Jane’s rendition of Another Suitcase in Another Hall which evoked a true sense of vulnerability in her emotions. The ensemble cast is strong, and includes local talent such as LJ Neilson, who will be playing the alternate Eva, Mark Richardson, who will alternate the role of Peròn, and Richard Gau, who will alternate Magaldi.
This show also sees JD Engelbrecht, in his Musical Theatre Debut. During a chat to him after the show, he told me how lucky he sees himself to kick-start his career with this production. “I have never had any professional training in Musical Theatre, so to enter this world of Musical Theatre with Evita, is very awesome”. To add to the new and fresh talent on stage, are the children, vital to some of the music in this musical. I think we can be proud of the talent that is coming forth, and this is due to the Musical Theatre Workshop, that develops these triple-thread performers with star quality.
But as I mentioned, the music of Evita is well-known, with a few of the songs in this score, having been hits on various charts, as stand-alone singles. What I appreciated this time around, was the quality and preciseness of the music I experienced. Hats off to Musical Director Louis Zurnamer and his orchestra, for just that.
This 2017 production of Evita will take you back in history, not only to the life and legacy of Eva Peròn, but also to the historic way this production was first produced in 1978. My impression is that this production is a true classic, adding justice to the art form it exemplifies. Theatre goers should not expect a modern, high-tech production with breath-taking special effects, but rather know that this production is, as it was produced, longer ago than Evita’s actual lifespan, before entering immortality…
Evita will run at the Teatro in Montecasino, until the 26 November 2017. Thereafter, the tour will continue to Cape Town, where it will run at the Artscape Opera House, from 1 December 2017 to 7 January 2017.
Evita Galary: Photos by Christiaan Kotze