Review: Timely staging of Evita hits all the right notes

By Paul Simei-Barton

Russell Dixon as Juan Peron and Heather Wilcock as the feisty Evita.
Russell Dixon as Juan Peron and Heather Wilcock as the feisty Evita.

Post-war Argentine strongman Juan Peron and his glamorous wife Evita may have faded from our collective memory, but with America's heartland falling under the spell of an unlikely saviour, a local revival of Evita couldn't be better timed.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's lush score and Tim Rice's intelligent lyrics offer a provocative reflection on how a corrupt authoritarian regime inspires quasi-religious devotion from the downtrodden masses due to the charismatic allure of a first lady whose steely ambition seems to embody the deepest aspirations of the nation.

Opening with a funeral and finishing with a heart-rending lament from a hospital bed, the audacious story structure rejects the formulaic upbeat ending and draws the audience into a compelling emotional identification with Evita's rags-to-riches story.

In the lead role Heather Wilcock captures the feisty toughness of a poor farmer's daughter as she rises to the pinnacle of power. Her rendition of the show's signature tune shows remarkable poise and as she battles against the frailty of her body she builds an overwhelming emotional connection with the audience.

As the narrator and conscience of the show, Che Guevara is given a jaunty cynicism in Matthew Pikes' assured performance while Russell Dixon brings a sense of gravitas to the role of the deeply flawed Juan Peron.

The 40-plus chorus, including children, build a striking visual tableaux around Stephen Robertson's superb design.

In some of the big numbers the production struggles to balance the exuberance of orchestra with the complex demands of the lyrics but the show delivers captivating energy at all the crucial moments.

What: Evita

Where: Bruce Mason Centre, to June 18

- NZ Herald

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