The beauty of living in London is that you are presented with a myriad of choices. There are 240 theatres in the city (shocking, right?), playing anything from epic classics like Lion King, to small pub theatres. You can go watch superstars that you’ve seen on the tv, performing live – (currently: Amy Adams in “The Glass Menagerie” or Emilia Clarke in “Seagull”, to name a few). You can surround yourself with top-of-class professional performances, but there’s also another option: seeing a group of people who are amateurs but work tirelessly over months, to stage a “passion project” while balancing the prep with their full-time jobs.
Mondays Musical Theatre Company – an after-hours Musical Group
I discovered the City Academy two months ago, when I accidentally heard about their version of “Producers”, staged in Bridewell Theatre. It’s a company that trains amateurs keen to give musical theatre a try. Each play is overseen by a fantastic, experienced creative team and takes a good couple of months to prepare. Their last production blew me away and it’s still on my list of most memorable plays of 2022. So when I heard about their upcoming new staging of “Evita”, I had high expectations!
“Evita” – a musical classic
This play is an Andrew Lloyd Weber’s classic. It focuses on Eva Perón, the second wife of Juan Perón, an Argentine political leader. Throughout the story, we learn about Evita’s childhood, her rise to power, her charitable work, and her death. As a musical, it’s considered a classic, but a demanding one – it requires the actors to perform various styles, from choral pieces (“Requiem for Evita”), to rhythmic Latinate styles (“On This Night of a Thousand Stars”) and even rocks. What’s more, it’s an all-singing piece, so there’s no moment to “take a break” – every word is a song. Tricky for any performer to deliver, I’m sure!
Monday’s MTC approached “Evita” with respect but also with their little flavour. I’ve seen this musical performed in the UK and in Poland before, and this version was much more female-centric compared with others. It could have been a largely female ensemble, costumes that highlighted female presence on the stage, or maybe Emily Booth who played the title role, and had such an overwhelming stage presence – whatever it was, I loved it!
Strong, electrifying female voices in “Evita”
Booth, a graduate of Guildford School of Acting, caught my eye right when she entered the stage. She completed every song effortlessly, and had this strong female charm, especially when it came to dealing with men in Evita’s life – in the first act she seemed to almost be playing with all the men, or pulling the strings in whichever relation she was in. I enjoyed the impeccable word pronunciation and voice control she displayed throughout the show – the sound system & microphones were not set to an optimum level at the performance, but Booth’s voice made me understand clearly every single word.
Talking about strong female voices, I have to highlight Florence Cook, who played the role of Peron’s mistress. Her solo in “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” was outstanding. The emotions portrayed in one single song, coupled with a delightful voice, created such magic in the audience and made me with Cook got more solo spotlight in the show. I’m looking forward to seeing more of her performances in the upcoming plays, she’s just such a delight to watch.
Key male roles in “Evita”
Male voices in this production had some strong powerhouses acting in the main roles. A crucial role in “Evita” is Che/narrator. The story as a whole is an overly-sweet way to portray Eva Peron’s life, and Che is the saving grace that adds doubt and slight bitterness to an overly “pretty picture” portrayed in the play. To play this role is a challenge, also because Che often duets with Evita and has to balance her strong voice as an equally strong counterpart. Carlito Reyes, luckily, is a fantastic choice for this role. Singing-wise he seemed technically impeccable, but what I loved the most was his stage presence: even in songs that didn’t require his presence, he was always somewhere in the darker corner of the stage, overseeing the story and ready to jump in and add a critical observation at any time.
Evita’s partners: firstly Agustin Magaldi, played by Andrea Giovagnoli, and Evita’s husband, played by Justin Jeffreys, understood their roles well. Giovagnoli shines as a music star surrounded by fame, not too keen on getting seriously involved so quickly with Evita. I could see that performing the classing “On this Night of a Thousand Stars” was giving him a lot of enjoyment – in a quick second, he would turn into an old-school singer and flap his jacket’s sides to the rhythm, making it look almost like a retro music video. He would then pass the stage to Evita, while joining the ensemble, and continue to showcase his energy there.
Jeffreys, on the other hand, created a calm, composed portrayal of Juan Peron. Peron, raising from a military colonel to the president, has to handle his relationship with Eva, generals who don’t seem to accept his wife’s presence, and his dreams of power. Peron starts his vocal showcase quite late in the play (by the end of Act 1), but when Jeffreys started to sing, I was just hoping he showed up on the stage much earlier. His tone of voice was just so pleasant and perfectly intertwined with Booth’s. Their duets were memorable, especially at “I’d be surprisingly good for you”.
Stage setup: simplicity that highlights the voices
The stage setup is simple and rather raw, with just a small wall with Evita posters on the side, and scaffolding in the back. The benefit of it is that the main focus for the audience is on the voices and looks of the actors who are not too distracted by the set. To me, the highlight of the show was the hairstyles of the actors and assembly – accompanied by simple costumes in the colours inspired by the Argentinian flag, they drew attention to the movement happening on the stage. There was a “wow” moment when Evita showed up on the stage in the white, embellished dress – I could hear the “aaaah” in the audience.
Another benefit of a simple set design is the visibility of the band. A 9-piece orchestra is exposed and not hidden in the pit – and I’m a huge fan of this solution! There was, however, an issue with sound design – in some songs the voices were not balanced well with the orchestra, and from where I sat, it was difficult to hear all the words.
To sum up…
This version of “Evita” is a breath of fresh air. It’s authentic, it’s fun, and it feels warm like a day in Buenos Aires. But most importantly, it’s filled with the passion of all the people involved – from creatives to every member of the ensemble. Sitting in the audience, among family members holding banners supporting their loved ones, was an experience that’s second to none. So enjoy the West End performances. But give small groups like these a try as well. You might be surprised with how emotional it gets at a play like this!
Written by: Tim Rice
Music by: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Directed by: Victoria Gimby
Ticket price: £19.90+
2-10 July 2022