Evita Critique: Does This Famous Musical Lack Emotion?
Recently, I attended a performance of the famous West End musical, Evita, which is currently touring around the UK. It was a show I had always wanted to see, my enthusiasm partly inspired by various renditions of "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina". After loving this song for years, I fully expected the musical to move me, absorb me and inspire me. I love the performing arts and my emotions are quite easily captured. However, as the show opened and moved through the first half, it didn't quite happen for me. Initially, I wasn't sure why this was, other than the frustrating fact that both I and the person with me had trouble deciphering the lyrics. And following the lyrics in this production is essential, because it is all singing and no dialogue. If I had not known anything about the story of Eva Peron prior to the show, I would have been well and truly lost. As it was, I had to strain my ears all the way through, which impounded upon the relaxed enjoyment I was expecting.
Don't get me wrong, though. I think that the performers, including Magdalena Alberto as Eva, Marti Pellow as Che and Mark Heenehan as Juan Peron, did a good job. But Evita failed me on more than one level. Eva Peron was, perhaps, a complicated woman and one is left wondering whether she was a true do-gooder or a flirtatious attention seeker. Such a deliberation isn't the point, however. In fact, it is how we are supposed to feel, to an extent. But I felt that the entire character was portrayed in a rather flimsy, vague manner and that is due to the script rather than the acting. The story does not allow us to travel back to Eva's childhood, for example. We don't see the poverty she endured. We don't see the environment she grew up in. We see her at fifteen years old, desperate to escape to Buenos Aires. But we don't see any glimpses of the life she was leaving behind. We don't see why she wanted to escape. We don't get to explore the character in true depth. We don't know where she came from, neither do we get to feel the soul of this young woman who is about to embark on this journey of self elevation. Essentially, we see her actions but we don't see much of her feelings. To cut it short, we don't connect with her enough. And that is a shame, because everyone starts from somewhere and we are all multi-faceted.
The first half of Evita feels quite rushed - a lot happens in a relatively short space of time. Eva wants to break away from her downtrodden existence and uses a series of flings to help her on her way. It's not a particularly attractive ploy, of course, but it might have been more satisfying if we had been shown other aspects of her personality; a bit more character depth. And when Eva meets Juan Peron, and his mistress departs to the song 'Another Suitcase in Another Hall', we almost wonder who this other woman is, springing as she does from practically nowhere. The said song is poignant and quite powerful, but to me it lacked substance because it felt almost unconnected to the show. The facts of Eva Peron's story were certainly there. However, scenes flitted from one to another as though in some kind of timeline, but for me, something was missing. And that something is emotion.
Even when Eva became ill, I thought emotion was missing from the production. Personally, because I had failed to connect with the character - from lack of depth in the script writing, rather than from the acting - it didn't move me enough. The death of Fontaine in Les Miserables was on a totally different scale, despite her passing occurring relatively early in the show. Somehow, we were all on Fontaine's side, from the moment she appeared. It could, of course, be argued that Fontaine was a much easier character to find compassion for, since her life was so hard and she was virtually powerless to change it. But still, Eva Peron was the main character in a show that outwardly sparkled - but inwardly still felt sparse - and I watched her decline with interest, but not with enough compassion.
And it isn't just the character of Eva who, in my opinion, suffers from this lack of emotion. After all, Eva Peron - although not loved by everyone - was adored by many of Argentina's poor and regarded by some as a saint upon her death. However, the musical doesn't really portray this connection satisfactorily. The mourning at her funeral is visible, but there isn't much build up to it. The grief almost seems to come from nowhere, since the relationship between Peron and her 'people' isn't apparent enough throughout the preceding scenes. We learn of the Maria Eva Duarte de Peron Foundation, set up by Eva herself to benefit the elderly, women and children in particular - yet even this somehow feels more like an entry on a timeline than any kind of revelation. Personally, I would have liked to have seen rather more of the lives of the Argentine civilians and their response to Eva, perhaps by adding a few more characters with parts big enough to have an impact on the show.
I did enjoy watching Evita, but I didn't leave the theatre feeling as though my heart had been touched. It was, in many ways, spectacular - the famous balcony scene being the 'moment' of the show. I also enjoyed Magaldi's scenes, and his performance of 'On This Night of a Thousand Stars'. However, spectacular does not necessarily mean emotive - and I still felt as though the production was dressed up in a slightly superficial way, because it lacked the depth to truly move. Of course, not all productions aim to produce this effect - heart-wrenching emotion does not have to be the desired outcome. But, in the absence of comedy or suspense or even dazzling acrobatics, then emotion is surely the key to holding an audience through to the end.
I loved the song "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" and I still do. It was always going to be the highlight. However, I left the theatre feeling that the song overpowered the entire story. The rest of the show didn't build up to that powerful moment on the balcony. For me, it was as though the song was in limbo, like a separate entity. Big moments have to break on the wave of escalating emotion - but the impending wave wasn't strong enough to carry it off. I have heard the song, and others, performed alone over the years and yet seeing the whole musical should have been an enhancing experience - but it wasn't. The song tells us how Eva tries to explain her feelings, saying 'all you will see is the girl you once knew' - only we didn't. From the song, we also learn that fame and fortune are 'illusions - they are not the solutions they promise to be'. However, the rest of the show doesn't portray Eva's thoughts on fame or fortune. We learned about what she did in her life, yet we still didn't really know her. It almost seems as if the track tells the entire story of Eva Peron without any need for the rest of the show. Indeed, it encapsulates all of the emotion that is missing from the remaining two hours.
Spending an evening at the theatre watching Evita was a pleasant experience, but not one that will stick in my mind as a true soul-stirrer. It simply doesn't reach deep inside in the same way that other shows do - however, it still entertains. It just isn't my favourite.