REVIEW: Slick production of rock opera Evita plays to packed houses at Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds
Stand-out performances, stunning costumes and a focussed ensemble packed a punch at the Theatre Royal on its 200th birthday, on Friday.
Bury St Edmunds Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society's production of 1978 Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice rock opera Evita played to packed houses all week, with theatregoers eager to lap up the story of Argentine political leader Eva Peron.
Tight choral singing from the ensemble opened the first act – as Eva's death was announced – leading into a fantastic rendition of Oh What a Circus by society newcomer Richard Simpson as Che.
His performance prompted a collective sigh of relief from those in the audience familiar with the musical, as it was clear we were in safe hands for the evening.
Katie Woodhouse was a passionate Evita. While at times Evita seemed unrelentingly angry, Juan Peron's appearance mid-way through act one – and the wonderfully evocative I'd be Surprisingly Good for You – softened the character somewhat and that warmth grew throughout act two.
Don't Cry for Me Argentina is Evita's most memorable number and a stunning dress and emotional performance did not disappoint.
Sam Hughan's cameo as The Mistress and her forlorn Another Suitcase, Another Hall was a stand-out moment, alongside high-energy company dance number The Money Came Rollin' In.
Other principles to impress were Max Cunnell as a charismatic Agustin Magaldi, while Andrew Haines was suitably imposing as Juan Peron.
However, at times diction and clarity was lacking among all the principles, making the plot more difficult to follow for those unfamiliar with the show (as the woman sitting next to me complained when she queried what was going on at the end of act one!).
This production's set and staging were simple and a little stark, but this allowed plenty of time to observe the ensemble.
And what a strong chorus it was. Their energy and focus was palpable, while cleverly-choreographed group dance routines (choreographer Glen Conner) ensured every member of the company was in sync and able to perform with precision and energy.
My complaint is, given the strength of every member of the cast, I would have liked to have seen the ensemble more. And perhaps a few more male members!
Evita tends to have a 'Marmite effect' on audiences. I love the musical and enjoyed this production, which had plenty of panache, but I accept it might not have been everyone's cup of tea.