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Following the commercial and critical acclaim of Jesus Christ Superstar here two years ago (it's now running at the Barbican), the Open Air returns to the Rice-Lloyd Webber oeuvre by inviting Jamie Lloyd to create an Evita for the social media age. It is young, hip and sexy and while the Gap Kids aesthetic is great, along the way it does lose much of the nuance in the original.
Soutra Gilmour's stripped back metallic design is a vast flight of steps with the band at the top, under a huge rusting 'Evita' sign. It gives this special theatre a rock concert vibe and the celebratory air is enhanced further with frequent explosions of firecrackers and confetti showers (cover your glass of Chardonnay!).
Evita's story is a cautionary tale about the deathly clutches of populism and while there are constant echoes of today in the book and lyrics, Lloyd wisely doesn't labour it. It's also a sung-through (modern) musical, one of the first, and while this gives the narrative momentum there is then a huge pressure on the lyrics, pressure it sometimes cannot bear. The central challenge with Evita has always has been the contrast between the stonking great 'songs', Rice and Lloyd-Webber's finest, which you will leave humming, and the rather creaky recitative sections. These passages create musical mountains for the three leads to climb and they all struggle with the more discordant sections, especially Samantha Pauly in the title role. She does redeem herself in the big numbers however.
The best song of the show, 'Another Suitcase in Another Hall' was, oddly, given to a minor character, the Mistress. Here, Frances Mayli McCann revels in the inevitable ovation, although her limelight is almost robbed by clunky staging. This is a song that doesn't need 'business'.
Pauly, striking looking and painfully hip, plays Evita as if she were a high school meanie and while 'Santa Evita' may have been calculating and ambitious, she deployed guile and cunning and not just effrontery in capturing and then holding on to General Peron. School girl sass wouldn't have got her very far with those conservative Generals whom Peron had to keep on side. The coarseness of her and her girrrrrlfriends is overplayed as is the decision to keep her in bedroom attire for most of it. This particularly jars for the Casa Rosada balcony scene. We get that she slept to the top...
Trent Saunders' Che is the spitting image of Russell Brand and in a witty touch he even wears a 'Che' t-shirt. He has a beautiful voice, rock star charisma and commands the stage, elevating what could otherwise have been High School The Musical.
Staging dances on a wide flight of steps isn't easy but Fabian Aloise embraces the task and delivers wonderfully crisp steps for a well drilled ensemble. The Argentine Tango may be more X Factor than Buenos Aires but it fits with the vibe. Aloise knows how to move actors not just dancers, how to capture the eye and how hold it.
Jamie Lloyd and Soutra Gilmour never disappoint because they always push the boat out and here again they have dusted off a show which is now 41 years old and re-invented it for a young audience. Viva Evita!