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This Evita sizzles with slickness and style

Evita, Belgrade Theatre, until September 29.

She’s been round the theatrical block a good many times over the years, but here is proof that Evita can survive the test of time. The leads might not stand out as star names, some of the lyrics are lost in over-weighted orchestral backing, and Bill Kenwright touring packages have occasionally hinted at cut-price values. But any such problems are quickly set aside here in a production that fairly sizzles with slickness and style. What makes it so good is the fact that this show positively rejuvenates the potential of a musical which, in its finest hours, can represent the very best of the Rice-Lloyd Webber partnership. As such, it becomes a powerful, seductive and deeply moving experience. Despite the Evitas who have gone before her, Lucy O’Byrne brings a freshness and vitality to the Argentine political figurehead, singing divinely and treading a brilliantly effective tightrope between the fragile woman struggling with illness and the fierce reformer working tirelessly for people’s rights. We first see her in vigorous dance routines as the ambitious entertainer Eva expounding her faith to her beloved Buenos Aires and then witness the event that changed everything, her first meeting with Peron in a delightful duet of one of the show’s cleverest songs, I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You. Mike Sterling’s Peron gets full rein with a character which has been sometimes under-performed in the past. Here he has the strength and charisma of a president whose passion goes hand in hand with a ready ruthlessness. The wry observations and irony of the people’s revolutionary, Che, are well drawn in Glenn Carter’s likeable performance but would benefit from a stronger hint of the anarchic mischief radiating from the lyrics. Company dance routines are splendidly humorous and exotic, occasionally reminiscent of the wonderful West Side Story, and there are fine, contrasting solos from Oscar Balmaseda (comically camp Night of a Thousand Stars) and Cristina Hoey (the haunting Another Suitcase).

It may have some of the inevitable limitations of a national touring production, but they are hardly to be noticed in a show that’s no less than a joyous entertainment. And you won’t forget the fabulous Ms O’Byrne in a hurry.

Winner!