Don't keep your distance

“You’d have to be mad to step into Madonna’s shoes and expect to fill them”. So mused I as we rocked up to the Dominion Theatre on Monday evening for the opening night of a very limited run of Evita, the classic Lloyd-Webber/Rice musical first premiered in London in 1978. It is, of course, better known to my generation as one – hell, the only one – of Madonna’s silver-screen victories, a lighthouse in a sea of flops, if you will. This heady combination of fangirl loyalty, high drama (Military plotting! Strategic seductions!) and its composers’ melodic creative zenith means Evita holds a special place in my heart, and thus, nerves were running high at curtain-up.

There was maybe a hint of nerve, too, for Marti Pellow, of erstwhile Wet Wet Wet renown, whose turn as Che Guevera started a little hesitantly but became ever more self-assured as the drama unfolded and had dissipated entirely by the interval. Madalena Alberto as Eva Peron, on the other hand, grasped the role with both hands in a manner that suggested she’d never even heard of Madonna, never mind allowed herself to be intimidated by her – which is just, one suspects, what ‘Santa’ Evita herself would have done. The truly remarkable thing about this production, though, was new lease of life that was granted to those numbers that, on screen, had been dull to the point of fast-forward; “Peron’s Latest Flame”, for example, laboured away on celluloid, turgid and hackneyed; and yet in the hands of this sparkling ensemble cast, it became a highlight – witty, brash and refined all at once.

It was, in fact, a night of resurrections all round; a classic musical, co-starring a veteran pop singer, back on the stage of a theatre whose recent facelift – all plush red velvet and turn of the century Chinoiserie gilding – was crying out for a production with a glamour, allure and melodrama to match; congratulations, then, to everyone involved that, in Evita – in stark contrast to that afforded Señora Peron herself – it got the happy ending it deserves.