Evita, by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, tells the story of Eva Duarte, born illegitimately in a small town but determined to get out of there and make it to the bright lights of Buenos Aires. Once she makes it there she advances her career as an actress and meets Colonel Juan Peron and together they climb their way to President and First Lady of Argentina.
Evita is not a typical musical, centered around hero’s and villains but instead all of the characters have many shades of gray and it is left up to the audience to decide who they root for or not. However whether you are rooting for her or not you must be engaged by Eva and the success of Evita hinges upon this and therefore the ability of the actress in this role. Eva barely leaves the stage and has to be able to portray Eva at 15, fresh faced arriving in Buenos Aires as convincingly as Eva at 33, dying and realising her dream will not happen. Not only that but she needs to be able to deliver iconic songs such as ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ and perform rock style vocals in ‘A New Argentina.’ Lucky for Leatherhead Operatic Society the role of Eva was very much in capable hands with Charlotte Fisher and did all of the above with seeming ease. She commanded the stage powerfully throughout the show and her acting through song was spot on, even in such contrasting numbers.
Benjamin Essenhigh played the narrator Che, constantly appearing from the shadows and lurking during pivotal moments of Eva’s life. One of the many strengths of Essenhigh’s performance was that even when he was not front and center you could easily read what he thought about Eva at that particular moment in time. Essenhigh also had a solid rock tenor voice and ‘Goodnight and Thank You’ was one of the highlights vocal of the show, listening to Essenhigh and Fisher sing this number together. I must also commend Ellie-Claire King who played Peron’s Mistress. Often the number ‘Another Suitcase In Another Hall,’ can lack reason but King ensured this did not happen as she delivered the number, not only with a beautiful vocal quality but with a real intention and drive behind her performance.
The ensemble were well drilled by John Harries-Rees the director and Louise E Wilson the choreographer and in particular the children of the cast gave such an assured and confident performances that you can tell the future of Leatherhead Operatic Society is in good hands. One minor gripe was that on occasion the chorography was basic and not always in keeping with the setting of the show. In ‘Buenos Aires’ I would have been keen to see a bigger explosion of energy on stage through dance and used some of the stronger dancers in the company to break out of some of the more regimented routine and give them a chance to shine. This would have also provided a starker contrast between that number and the more stilted numbers such as ‘Peron’s Latest Flame.’
Sam Fisher, the Musical Director had also done an exceptional job. The huge variety of demands on the cast is unlike most shows but they managed to pull off everything from Requiems to torch songs. The tricky harmonies really powered through during the show, ensuring that this score was heard in the layered and complex manner Lloyd Webber intended. At times, in particular the rockier moments of the show, I would have liked the band to be a little louder so you can really hear some of the more intricate moments the band have. However that being said the sound operator, Stuart Vaughan, balanced the soloists mics well and ensured that not a single line was dropped, not an easy feat in a sung through show!
The set was very well though out with a sweeping staircase either side of the stage, leading up to the infamous balcony, center stage. This enabled an inventive use of levels throughout the show, not just the moments that you expect Eva to be on the balcony. It also helped the show to keep momentum up, combined with an intelligent and atmospheric lighting design, unnecessary scene changes were avoided and consequently I was constantly engaged in the action on stage.
With Charlotte Fisher and Benjamin Essenhigh giving star turns in their respective roles and a committed ensemble, all boosted by a well thought out set and lighting Evita really was a success for Leatherhead Operatic Society.
You can find out more about Leatherhead Operatic Society on their website.
If you like this review you might also like my reviews of Top Hat by Cygnet Players, American Idiot by Sedos and The Toxic Avenger by Festoon Theater Company.