REVIEW: Evita, by Alnwick Stage Musical Society, at Alnwick Playhouse

It won’t be easy, you’ll think it strange.

That may have been how the forthcoming production was announced to members of Alnwick Stage Musical Society after their award-winning show Sister Act last year.

Juliette Bell as Evita and Anthony Stoker as Colonel Peron in Alnwick Stage Musical Society's production of Evita at Alnwick Playhouse.  Pictures by Jane Coltman

Juliette Bell as Evita and Anthony Stoker as Colonel Peron in Alnwick Stage Musical Society's production of Evita at Alnwick Playhouse. Pictures by Jane Coltman

Evita was not typical of the more traditional shows tackled by the group, the likes of South Pacific, Oklahoma, Carousel and Annie Get Your Gun.

Evita was on a different plain – more light opera with some hellishly difficult songs and not exactly a barrel of laughs!

But thanks to a lot of hard work and some extraordinary performances, Evita has seen the Society really come of age. The Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical charts the rise of Eva Peron to the top of Argentina’s political tree through to her death from cancer at the age of just 33.

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the challenge was huge, not least of which the high number of men required for key roles.

Juliette Bell as Eva Peron

Juliette Bell as Eva Peron

Step up Darren Lewis as narrator and revolutionary Che, who sees through the flawless image created by Eva Peron. Darren was professional, commanding and controlled, his singing powerful and on the button throughout. A faultless display that would not have been out of place in the West End.

He engaged well with the audience and belted out the show’s standards Oh What a Circus (Oh What a Show), And the Money Kept Rolling In and High Flying Adored.

Alongside Darren, newcomer Juliette Bell took the role of Eva by the scruff of the neck and gave it vitality, sensitivity and profound reality, culminating in a goosebump-inducing sequence as the tragic character descends from the height of popularity to failure, illness and, ultimately, death.

Juliette lit up the stage as she bounced into action with such sparkle as an ambitious 15-year-old. Then later, her rendition of the iconic Don’t Cry For Me Argentina was spellbinding. She was outstanding.

Darren Lewis as Che

Darren Lewis as Che

The supporting principals also came up trumps. Leonie Dial followed her spectacular role as Deloris in Sister Act with another energetic performance, producing one of the finest moments of the piece, pitching perfectly for the song made famous by Barbara Dickson, Another Suitcase in Another Hall. She sung it with such incredible emotion in her voice that we all felt her pain at being thrown out of the Peron household.

Long-standing Society member Anthony Stoker was reliably solid as Peron and Peter Biggers did well as Eva’s first love, a tango singer called Magaldi. Claire Teasdale’s cameo number as a mother with a baby appealing for financial help was also worthy of note.

The chorus grew into their harmonies and dance moves as the production progressed, ending the first half with the splendidly rousing A New Argentina and culminating in the stunning Lament at the death.

It was great to see a few familiar faces of old, such as Len Reece and Alex Swailes, brought into this anniversary celebration, while the band, led by stalwart Peter Brown, held the show together neatly.

Peter Biggers plays Austin Magaldi - Eva's first lover

Peter Biggers plays Austin Magaldi - Eva's first lover

It was a gamble to take on such a difficult musical and an honour for the amateur group to be granted a rare licence to perform Evita, but it paid off and director Norman Luke, the cast and all those involved in the staging, costumes and lighting should be justly proud.

Evita ran at Alnwick Playhouse from Tuesday, March 21, to Sunday, March 26, 2017

THE CAST OF EVITA

Juliette Bell – Eva Peron; Darren Lewis – Che; Anthony Stoker – Peron; Peter Biggers – Magaldi; Leonie Dial – Mistress; Claire Teasdale – Mother with baby.

The Chorus

Dave Penny, Philip Gregory, Len Reece, Colin Grimes, Alex Swailes, Chris Blythe, Colin Davidson, Michael Tweed, Ant Allen, Mark Stenton, Melanie Grey, Dona Budd, Leonie Dial, Suzanne Hepher, Claire Teasdale, Katie Robertson, Lisa Gladstone, Kellie Hughes, Ali Wrangham, Sheila Graham, Diane Maughan, Christine Trotter, Barbara Naylor, Cheryl Jackson, Tina Munton, Taura Stewart, Margaret Reece, Mary Mewett, Mary Walker, Carol Knowles, Sibylle Stenzel, Nikki Buckley-Feiven.

Leonie Dial as Mistress

Leonie Dial as Mistress

Darren Lewis as Che in a scene from Evita at Alnwick Playhouse.

Darren Lewis as Che in a scene from Evita at Alnwick Playhouse.

A scene from Alnwick Stage Musical Society's Evita.

A scene from Alnwick Stage Musical Society's Evita.