It’s a tried and tested show, you can’t go wrong if you’re a West End company, but Evita remains one of the best musicals out there.
The West End is often bashed for formulaic commercial pickings, and Andrew Lloyd Webber – with a recent string of not-that-memorable shows and elimination TV appearances to his name – is often used as an easy target. His latest musical, Stephen Ward, is facing early closure after a disappointing run. So it’s easy to forget just how innovative he has been over the years. In, back in the 1960s, you’d have forecast that a man would write massively successful musicals involving people playing cats in leotard costumes, all-singing all-dancing Old Testament characters or roller-staking locomotives, you would have been laughed at – but that’s exactly what he did. Ranking alongside those musicals as his most innovative is Evita. At first glance, it is the story of the wife of famous/notorious Argentine president Juan Perón. Not far beneath the surface, however, is the story of what was going on in Argentina at the time. Can you make an interesting musical about Argentine politics? Yes you can. And the credit must, of course, be shared with Tim Rice for creating such a convincing world.
Perhaps the most enduring asset of Evita is how relevant it has remained. It is over 35 years since the musical began, and 60 years since the Eva Perón era, but the things in the world that made the Peróns possible haven’t changed. Governments who rise by the coup who are doomed to fall by the coup. The irresistible appeal amongst a disenchanted working class of someone who used to be one of them. The strength of the masses, and the power one or two charismatic speakers can have to mobile them. Euphoria when an unpopular government is booted out by a new one promising better. Cold reality when it sinks in that the new regime isn’t much better than the old one. The way that some of the most impoverished and disenfranchised people in society idolise some of the richest and most powerful, as long as they look glamorous. The lengths politicians to go in order to meet expectations of glamour. It’s ironic that something that happened in the 1940s could just as easily happen today.