Evita at The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre: A Fresh and Modern Spin on the Eponymous (Anti) Heroine
“Don’t you just love the smack of firm government?” The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s classic musical Evita with its populist protagonist feels especially relevant today. However, Director Jamie Lloyd has wisely refrained from contemporary allusions and, instead, allows audiences to take away their own comparisons. Chronicling Argentina’s former First Lady Eva Perón’s rise from poverty to practical sainthood, Lloyd has brought a fresh and modern spin to the eponymous (anti) heroine.
Designer Soutra Gilmour has created a minimalist and monochromatic set with giant letters spelling “EVITA” dominating in the background. While this minimalist approach is certainly a new take on the often sumptuous and bright sets and costumes of Evita, it is definitely not unique on the stages of London theatre nowadays. Nonetheless, this minimalism works well because of Fabian Aloise’s amazing and inventive choreography which not only accompanies the numbers but is organically part of the story.
In “Goodnight and Thank You,” a number showcasing Eva’s social climbing, Aloise has choreographed a sequence where Eva literally climbs on the backs of her lovers, and it is particularly effective. “The Art of the Possible” is another standout with Mireia Mambo performing a tightly choregraphed militaristic spectacle.
Evita is a difficult character to assess. Should audiences root for her or should they despise her? Are her intentions sincere? This a stripped-down Eva Perón. She has her natural hair colour and wears a simple white slip and sneakers throughout the show. It is only at the end that the audience briefly witnesses the public façade, the famously blonde Eva in her glamourous ballgown.
Throughout this production, the audience is not allowed to forget who the real Eva is underneath all the public glamour and adoration. She is a social climber, she is power hungry and she is looking out for herself first. Because of this direction, Samantha Pauly takes a rather cynical approach to the character, so it is perhaps a bit difficult to see how Pauly’s Eva would have been able to charm an entire nation. Nonetheless, Pauly has a spectacular voice and performs Webber and Rice’s ballads with great emotion.
Trent Saunders plays the role of Che the musical’s narrator, and his take on “Oh What a Circus” is especially good. Although her role as the Mistress is brief, Frances Mayli McCann’s “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” is particularly moving due to the purity of her voice. Ektor Rivera plays a smooth-talking Juan Perón, smartly allowing Samantha Pauly to take centre stage as Eva. Having to perform intricate choreography while also singing musically tough numbers, the cast in this production is indeed talented.
There’s a reason that Evita is the third Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice production to open this summer in London alone. Webber and Rice’s works are always a treat to watch, and with the standing ovation I witnessed on Press Night, there is no doubt that Jamie Lloyd’s confetti flying production will be “high flying adored” all summer long.
Evita will be performed at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until September 21, 2019.
Photograph: Marc Brenner.