Evita has arrived at The Lowry, and this current tour is unmissable.
I saw the show on tour about five or six years ago and loved it, but last night's production made the first I saw seem like an amateur performance.
The current touring cast give the show a whole new lease of life.
I came away with a whole new appreciation for the show; songs I had never been a huge fan of became some of my favourites, I noticed subtleties in the narrative I've never seen before and the casting was genius.
Evita tells the story of Eva Peron, a working class girl who worked her way up the ranks to become wife of Peron, and First Lady of Argentina.
The role of Eva is therefore an incredibly complex one, beginning as a 15 year-old girl full of dreams, rising to power and eventually meeting her death, due to cancer, at just 33. For an actress this would be impressive, but you've got to then add to that the fact she is a woman who manipulates everything around her, and plans and executes her life in an incredibly clever fashion. As an audience, you've got to believe the country adored her while also seeing her flaws. In previous versions I've seen, all I have taken away is the story of working girl to woman of the people.
Emma Hatton completed the role. For the first time, I felt I truly saw the whole character of Eva. She skilfully planned the life she desired, and she did it well. From the moment Hatton entered the stage she was flawless. As 15 year-old Eva, she was youthful and full of energy, not to mention a brilliant dancer. As the show progressed, she matured gracefully, fully embodying her role as Eva Duarte de Peron, leading her husband's rise to power. Hatton's voice is unquestionably brilliant, but the way she controlled her vocal to chart the growth of her character was quite remarkable, She held back some of its full power until as late as mid-way through the second half, when she really let that full, rich voice take hold. 'Rainbow High' was absolutely phenomenal in this respect, and was one of my favourite songs of last night's performance. Before that, Hatton's 'Don't Cry for Me Argentina' had the whole audience enraptured; you could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium.
In the final stages of the show, Hatton also mastered the art of 'singing really well while making it clear your character is dying', which is a tough one to get right, and 'You Must Love Me' had me in tears. Ending the show with 'Lament', post-death, Hatton had one final chance to showcase her Eva, and my goodness was it brilliant.
Stepping into the role of Che was Gian Marco Schiaretti, and he too blew me away. To begin with, his voice was absolutely stunning, and he never once let his character slip, whether that was in his stance, facial expressions, or through his words. He was a commanding presence on stage, and skillfully guided the narrative. It's another tough part, and I have never seen it executed as well as last night, on stage or screen. Every word was executed with purpose, and for the first time I really heard all of the words. For the first time, none of the little asides were lost on me, and Schiaretti added that depth of meaning to every single scene. 'High Flying Adored', which in the past I've found a little boring, was beautiful, and the climactic 'Waltz for Eva and Che' showed off both Hatton and Schiaretti superbly.
While I'm on a roll with writing about the songs I've not loved in the past but that my mind was changed about last night, Kevin Stephen-Jones most definitely deserves a mention. I would never have picked out 'She is a Diamond' as a highlight before, but he delivered this beautifully, and throughout the show I enjoyed his depiction of Peron.
One more solo I can't possibly not mention in a review of Evita is one of my long-time favourites, 'Another Suitcase in Another Hall'. It's an unusual moment, in some ways, to give such a significant song to a character only ever known as 'Peron's Mistress', but is one of the most brilliant songs in the show. Sarah O'Connor delivered the song perfectly, and the audience were completely swept away in it. Her voice had such a pure, beautiful tone, and it had all the impact that song deserves.
The ensemble, too, were slick and the choreography was brilliant. 'Buenos Aires' was a favourite in that regard, along with what is always a highlight of the show: 'Peron's Latest Flame'. The soldiers and ladies had perfect diction - not always a feat achieved in group numbers - and they elicited laughs from the audience in all the right places.
I think it's very clear to see I was impressed by the performance last night, and I would very happily go again tonight, and probably tomorrow, too.
The cast was flawless, the storytelling was expertly done, and the overall visual impact was a ten out of ten.
If you do get chance to see the show on its current tour, you really must. It's quite something.