Pretty sure Lola has been my favourite writer since we were 17, so I’m bloody thrilled to host her first guest post here on LYG. And if you like this, there’s a whole debut novel where that came from: The Music and the Mirror is out now from Ylva Publishing.
There was an unfair amount of pressure on the touring cast of Evita at the King’s Glasgow on Tuesday night – though luckily for the actors, I don’t think they were aware of it.
Sure, when it comes to a long tour like this, maybe it’s still nerve-wracking on every first night. The first good sign was that I assumed Glasgow was an early stop after Turin, because everyone seemed enthused and in very good voice, even on a rainy Tuesday night.
No, the unknown pressure came from me being in the audience. Unless I’m on some kind of list somewhere. But then I don’t think my bezzer could have brought me if I am.
You see, I’ve loved Evita as a score since I learned to read. The “other” White Album, with Julie Covington and David Essex, was a staple in my house, and I pored over those Tim Rice lyrics with increasing appreciation as my love of language grew. I only need to hear those blasting opening notes of “Requiem for Evita” and it’s a full-body experience far beyond anything Proust was wanking on about with his pretty little cakes.
I’ve lived and breathed this musical the way other people consult religious texts. I rank my Evas, Ches and unnamed mistresses with the scientific rigour and fangirlish bias of any garden variety obsessive. These are my baseball cards, my vinyl collections, my antique teapots.
Let’s not forget that the part of Eva (which, sorry boys, but that’s all this musical is truly about) is the most vocally demanding outside of opera. There are notes in there that even true sopranos need to take a run at, and there’s a demand for belting where most people are lucky to stumble onto the notes at all.
It’s a part that has been inhabited by two of the best-known divas on either side of the Atlantic, Elaine Paige and Patti LuPone. Revived in 2006 in London, the show found a scrappy Argentinian of its own in Elena Roger, and she subsequently took it back to Broadway. Having heard all three sing it live, my standards are somewhere in the stratosphere.
So what a relief, a genuinely blessed relief, that in Madalena Alberto’s capable hands – and vocal cords – the role of Eva is done justice. More than that. I’m sorry now that in the process of leaving London I missed seeing her do this role in the West End itself.
I set tests for every Eva I encounter, be it in full productions or one song in concert. The first act has the high-belting technical nightmare of “A New Argentina”, and when I saw Madalena leveraging herself off a table to make sure she hit that piercing soprano in the second refrain, I knew we had the real deal. She plays the full range from coquettish runaway to stateswoman with genuine charm, and if you weren’t rooting for ‘Santa Evita’ by the end then I think we were watching different productions.
Better yet, in the second-act showstopper “Rainbow High”, Alberto nails it as though coached by LuPone herself. There’s a particularly emphatic beat to hit on “saviour” and when it came out score-perfect with all the necessary heart, I had to stop myself from punching the air.
Not that the boys let her down. Gian Marco Schiaretti is probably the best Che I’ve seen live, with just a nod to the Banderas version from the film. Jeremy Secomb has all the presence that Juan Perón needs, and this is the most devastating their love story has ever been, the painful denouement bringing a tear to even my eye. Alberto resurrects the sometimes-bland addition of “You Must Love Me”, justifying its inclusion within the original score, a perfect two hander of grief to Secomb’s “don’t ask anymore”.
A sung-through musical, I’m reliably informed it’s a little hard to follow the political nuances if you’re not already familiar. It’s a shame that one or two of the funnier asides are sometimes swallowed by the exuberance of the orchestra, but if you know to look out for them they still land.
A few minor limitations of a touring production showed up, though it could just be that any riot scene on a Glasgow stage lacks the natural enthusiasm for a rammy that locals could bring to the table. And I’m not saying half the audience flinched when the priests came out shaking incense and chanting in Latin, but I had to resist the reflexive urge to cross myself as usual.
The tour with this cast is playing Glasgow through Saturday 19th, then they’re off to Newcastle and Grimsby respectively.
Evita is on at King’s Theatre, Glasgow until Saturday, 19th May. Show is 7:30pm with a 2:30pm matinee on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Lola Keeley is a writer, coder and my bezzer. After moving to London to pursue her love of theatre, she later wound up living every five-year-old’s dream of being a train driver on the London Underground. She has since emerged, blinking into the sunlight, to find herself writing books. She now lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, with her wife and three cats. She just published The Music and the Mirror.