REVIEW: Evita (Palace Theatre, Manchester)

 © Keith Pattison
© Keith Pattison
Guest REviewer: Karen Clough
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Evita tells the story of Eva Peron, who grew up in poverty in Argentina and found fame and adoration as an actress. She used her notoriety to highlight the struggles of less fortunate Argentinians, married a powerful military figure and went on to lead beside him as first lady when he was made President.

It’s suggested this role served her own need for love and adoration as much as it served the people’s need for hope and change. The significance of Eva’s appearance and her yearning for affection and validation from the people are themes which re-emerge throughout the show.

Set against the surrounding political unrest in Argentina in the 1940s-50s, many topics, such as sexism, objectification of women, social division and corruption are touched upon, and no doubt hold current relevance for a modern audience. Eva knows too well that her physical appeal can be used as a vehicle, to propel herself into a position of influence, as the face and heart of her country. 

Visually, this is a sophisticated production. The combined efforts of the set design (Matthew Wright), wardrobe team (Caroline Hannam, Caroline Heppell, Katie Bell, Billie Sanger, Hannah Forbes), choreographers (Bill Deamer, Kylie Anne Cruickshanks), orchestra (David Cullen) and lighting design (Tim Oliver, Mark Howett), ensure the audience are treated to a real ‘show’ experience. Under Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright‘s direction, everyone and everything looks and sounds the part for a high-end stage musical.

As would be expected from a Lloyd -Webber & Rice production, the musical numbers keep on coming – 28 in total. If you struggle to stay with back-to-back singing, bear with it in the first half, it’s quite full-on. Helpfully, narration by Che (Gian Marco Schiaretti) joins things up very nicely. Often Eva’s biggest critic, he mingles smoothly between scenes and invites us to look beneath her polished, altruistic exterior. 

Madalena Alberto is a captivating and expressive Eva Peron, from ambitious teenager to passionate leader through to Eva’s ultimate frailty. Jeremy Secomb is strong as her militarised husband, Juan Peron. Their duet ‘You Must Love Me’ is a touching moment, where Secomb lets the more vulnerable side of the President show through.

‘Rainbow High’ provides a great example of the skilful choreography and visual appeal of the show. Alberto holds the audience in goose-bumped silence during her powerful and glamorous balcony performance of Evita hit, ‘Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina’.

This is a good, well put together and entertaining Evita with convincing performances which do not disappoint. 

-Karen Clough

Evita continues to tour the UK through 2018. Further tour dates can be found here.

REVIEW – Top Hat (Manchester Opera House)

© 2015 Top Hat On Stage Ltd
© 2015 Top Hat On Stage Ltd
Date: 10 February 2015
Upstaged Rating: 

Top Hat transports us back to the golden age of Hollywood, it is all about the glitz and glamour, a romantic narrative steeped in the fast screwball comedy genre of 1930’s America. It is a dance extravaganza with a showcase of Irving Berlin’s show tunes providing the perfect accompaniment to a night of precision tap dancing and Bill Deamer’s Olivier Award winning choreography.

For those who are not familiar, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers starred in the 1935 original movie of the same name – the plot is uncomplicated and quite farcical and tells the story of Jerry Travers (Alan Burkitt), a Broadway dancer, who falls for the stunning Dale Tremont (Charlotte Gooch). However, the course of love and romance never did run smooth and his failed attempts to woo her result in hilarious misunderstandings and mistaken identities. The simple but well-made plot is loaded with humour which the cast deliver with such impeccable timing and pace – once you let yourself get swept up with the sentiment and moral sensibility of the 1930’s, the comedy is an absolute delight.

Alan Burkitt’s dancing is technically flawless and perfectly synced as he tap dances with his silhouette in the hotel room above where Dale is trying to sleep. Charlotte Gooch impresses as the leading lady, a real triple threat – her charming stage presence and comic timing make her as mesmorising an actor as she is a singer and dancer.

Top Hat really feels as if it was made for the stage, the second act really thrives in front of a live audience, there is a sense of spontaneity from fashion designer Alberto (Sebastian Torkia)who is also competing  for Dale’s affection. Horace (Clive Hayward) and Madge Hardwick (Rebecca Thornhill) and eccentric valet Biggs (John Conroy) all impress also during the denouement – with well-paced lines and no use of a blackout, the humour reaches a crescendo which the audience love. Top Hat is not just any champagne – it is a pink champagne of the finest quality.

The show boasts over 200 different costumes, designed by the award winning Jon Morrell; the beautiful and functional art deco set design by Hildegard Bechtler’s is also a highlight. Top Hat is pure gold entertainment, clean and elegant fun – that will leave you toe tapping and singing ‘Cheek to Cheek’ all the way home.

-Kristy Stott