Viva Evita!

Evita is one of my favourite musicals.

I love the drama, the storytelling, the lyrics and the music.

It’s a challenging musical to stage, but a challenge that I relished when directing the show for OUR LADY’S MUSICAL SOCIETY in November 2022 as part of their ongoing 60th Anniversary celebrations. This isn’t a review, just a rambling discussion of the show, the themes, the staging, and a little bit of praise for amateur theatre which is thriving despite arguably being under more pressure than ever.

Grant Johnstone, John McNally, John Fleming, Kirsten MacDonald, James Cassidy, Laurie Thompson, Philip Trainer, David Tollan. Photo T Gemmell.


TIRELESS

I’ll explain my anger at the lazy stereotype of Amateur Musicals being “amateurish” elsewhere on this blog, so long story short, I’m incredibly proud of the members of the club who worked tirelessly over the past few months, each dealing with the everyday challenges in their own lives yet still turning up to learn and to give their all in rehearsals.

Any performance on stage is nerve-wracking, but when you aren’t a trained actor, singer or dancer then putting yourself on a public stage is incredibly tough, being judged by an audience is stressful, and the fear of messing up entirely real.

Yet the magnificent cast and chorus have succeeded in creating a “gripping” production with “beautiful singing” which has engaged audiences.

THE MUSICAL

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice followed the success of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Jesus Christ Superstar with another sung-though show – but this time they tackled a modern-day story with characters contemporary audiences may have remembered.

The story follows the rise of Argentine girl Eva Duarte from small-town poverty of the countryside to becoming the wife of the president and adored by many.

Eva, or colloquially Evita, died in her early thirties just as she was gaining more power than ever. (That’s not a spoiler, the show starts with the news of her death then flashes back).

Margaret Morrison, Kirsty Logan, John McNally, Kirsten MacDonald as Evita, Cols Young, James Cassidy as Peron, Lynn Mulvanna and Barbara Morris. Photo T Gemmell.

As a sung-through show, Evita demands that the audience pay attention to the lyrics of the songs in order to follow the story. It also means that that production tells that story visually too.

The first time I saw the show on stage I liked it, but was confused at the ambiguous nature of the ending. There were no easy answers. Was she hero or villain? Should I like her or hate her? Who was the real Evita?

“A cross between a fantasy of the bedroom and a saint.”

HIGH FLYING ADORED

Of course, that is the challenging point of the show – to explore Evita’s contradictions, to somehow depict the pro-Peron and anti-Peron sentiments which have surrounded Eva Peron’s story since she was initially in the public eye.

To this day, many in Argentina still adore Evita and what she did to help the poor and the female vote. And yet, many still criticise the Perons for building an authoritarian state following popular elections.

The everyman narrator, known in the script as “Che” wanders through the story, guiding us, leading us, scathingly undermining Eva. But he is an unreliable narrator, who in his first song betrays boiling anger and lets slip that he is a man “who grew and saw from seventeen to twenty-four, his country bled, crucified, she’s not the only one who died...” We like him, but cannot trust him. So when he shows us Eva’s rise through society by sleeping with many men, or Juan Peron’s rise to the top of the military through game-playing, is that the truth, or his anti-Peronist view?

Yet that view is necessary to show the duality of how the Perons are still perceived.

I felt that the show does a great deal to burst the over-inflated bubble of the Perons, so I wanted to humanise Eva. The subtle, and not-so-subtle indicators of her illness and decline still upset me. Eva singing YOU MUST LOVE ME as she watches her husband (incidentally receiving medical confirmation of her terminal cancer) while she still clutches an Argentine flag from the previous scene was important to show her own conflicts.

Eva’s Girls, who supported her throughout the show, as well as literally supporting Kirsten during various on stage costume changes, held her up during EVA’S FINAL BROADCAST and it was lovely to see their reactions to the speech as Eva sang. The imagery of Eva then wandering in her hospital room, attached to a drip, while memories spun around her led to what I hoped was an emotional ending. Of course, that’s for audiences to judge.

And then there’s Che, who in my head at least, was beaten to death by the Secret Police (Eva’s remarkable ‘girls’ again) during the finale of Act One, meaning that his every appearance in Act Two is as a ghost haunting Eva’s mind. Perhaps.

Kirsten MacDonald, Cat Gemmell, Stephanie Martin, Mia Cochrane, Bronwen Hutchison, Kirsty Logan, Lorna Lee, Paula McAleer and Ray O’Sullivan. Photo T Gemmell.

VALUE FOR MONEY

Alan Parker’s fantastic 1996 film version of the musical is a firm favourite of mine and a masterclass of cinematic storytelling. Without the budget of a Hollywood blockbuster, it is often difficult to try and create theatrical “magic” on an amateur stage. It is even more difficult now with clubs, venues and individuals still struggling with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, or the current cost of living crisis in Britain which makes any night out to the theatre a costly business.

The struggles are apparent in the professional world too, with costs contributing to the closure of The Woman in Black and others in London’s West End:

It is incumbent upon companies, clubs, production teams and performers to make the best attempt possible to give audiences value for money.

I think with this production, we managed it. With the help of a marvellous set, precise lighting and sound, the hard-working props and stage management teams and of course the excellent band, we’ve created a wonderful-looking and great-sounding evening. The singing from the leads was remarkable, emotional and thrilling, which you may feel is my director’s ego talking, but every ounce of feedback from the production praised our wonderful singers.

Set by Prop Hire Scotland, Lighting Design completed by Motherwell Civic Staff. Photo T Gemmell.

Without the performers we have nothing. I’m particularly proud that this show has a diverse range of performers male, female, young (and not so young). The show demands and permits a huge amount of chorus movement and dance and while undoubtedly tiring, the finished product is making it all worthwhile.

AMATEUR THEATRE

Amateur theatre is a strange hobby. Those who find relaxation or solace in reading, painting, gaming, or watching movies or sports do it for themselves. But amateur theatre people also do it to create a final product, a piece of entertainment for audiences to watch, examine, and hopefully enjoy.

What pressure. Why put themselves through that?

Because they love it.

This production has cast members who have entertained their community for decades. And I’m proud to say that our production has new members with very little experience. Three of our leads never had a main role in a production before. One of them was our truly magnificent leading lady.

So if you don’t get musicals, that’s fine. But try and support local theatres where local people put themselves up there in that terrifying spotlight for your entertainment. They are a special breed.


I love the show. I was delighted with the cast. I am immensely proud of the part I played in putting the best of every performer on that stage.

Despite everything, one of the world’s oldest art forms is still here.

Maybe there’s a theatre club near you? What are you waiting for?


CREDITS

EVITA by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice was and amateur production by arrangement with The Really Useful Group Ltd. performed from 1st to 5th November 2022 at the Motherwell Civic Theatre.

Director THOMAS GEMMELL, Musical Director DAVID FISHER, Asst Musical Director EMMA CLUCKIE, Choreographer LIAM MCGRATH.

Eva Duarte Peron KIRSTEN MACDONALD
Juan Peron JAMES CASSIDY
Che RAY O’SULLIVAN
Magaldi JONATHAN PROCTER

Mistress: LOUISE BARRY, KIRSTY LOGAN, COLS YOUNG

Family GRANT JOHNSTONE, BRONWEN ROSE HUTCHISON, STEPHANIE MARTIN, PAULA MCALEER

Eva’s Girls MIA COCHRANE, CAT GEMMELL, KIRSTEN KEENAN (Dance Captain), LORNA LEE

Chorus YVONNE BURNS, ANNE-MARIE CARNEY, JOHN FLEMING, KAREN LOWE, LIZ MCMAHON, JOHN MCNALLY, MARIE MAXWELL, BARBARA MORRIS, MARGARET MORRISON, LYNN MULVENNA, LETITIA REILLY, LAURIE THOMPSON, VIOLET THOMPSON, DAVID TOLLAN, PHILIP TRAINER.

Children
GO KIDS (FREYA BROWN, MYA CRAWFORD, AARON DOUGAN, CARYS LAWRIE, MACY LAWRIE, JENNIFER WALSH, NATHAN VARGHESE) and THE CARFIN CHORISTERS

Stage Director PETER MCCROSSAN
Asst Stage Director
MICHAEL MCCROSSAN

Crew: GILLIAN ARMSTRONG, STUART BLACK, ROSS BOWIE, SEAN CRAWFORD, KATIE MCCROSSAN, MARIE-JO MCCROSSAN, MATTHEW MCCROSSAN, MARTIN MCROBERTS.

Set PROP HIRE SCOTLAND

Rehearsal Accompanist
JANICE RAESIDE

Make-up EILEEN SPENCE

Costumes: thatlooksgood

Props MARGARET BOYLEN

Ticket Manager CHRIS KELLY

Sound and lighting
MOTHERWELL THEATRE

Photography and programme LAURIE THOMPSON

Front of House
ANNE REILLY, MARIA CASEY, SHONA DONNELLY, SIMON KELLY, RAYMOND LUNNY, PHIL MCKENZIE, ROBERT NIMMO, DAVID O’HARA, ESTHER O’HARA, EDWADR PERSON JNR, CATHERINE SHEERY, COLIN SPENCE, JULIE SPENCE

Photographs, security and tea
JIM MCALEESE

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