Mainly made famous by the movie starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas, Evita is a musical known worldwide for its high level of emotion. Bill Kenwright’s touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s hit sensation arrived in Dublin, enthralling theatre fans all over the country. It is easy to see why – this production is an unmissable and unforgettable example of brilliant live theatre.

Evita tells the life story of Eva Peron, wife of former Argentine dictator Juan Peron. The musical details Eva’s ambitious journey to achieve wealth, status and power between the 1930’s and 1950’s, ultimately resulting in her being regarded as the “spiritual leader of the nation” by the people of Argentina.

The first act opens with Eva’s funeral and it is immediately made known to the audience that this is a funeral of extreme importance. Through mesmerising music and haunting vocals in the number “Requiem For Evita” and a stunning set design – which immediately transforms the theatre into a church, complete with a coffin and portrait of Eva Peron – one thing is clear: Argentina is mourning. 

The audience is then transported back in time to when Eva is just 15 years old and is invited to learn about her journey to power as narrated through song by Che Guevara. Gian Marco Schiaretti takes on the role of Che and with a triple threat of passionate acting, subtle yet cleancut dance moves and faultless vocals, he gives a truly memorable performance.

The first act mainly revolves around the theme of power. The audience witnesses Eva, a role taken on superbly by Kelly Gnauck, become an Argentine icon through her quest for power and relationship with Juan Peron. Power-hungry, fierce, brave and independent are just some traits that spring to mind – all personified effortlessly by Gnauck through numbers such as “Buenos Aires” and “A New Argentina”. The emotional impact in this act is mostly driven by the history and drama behind her life story as the rise of this determined young woman to become Argentina’s best loved first lady leaves audience members feeling empowered.

However, the second act brings with it a whole other range of contrasting emotions, as the mood and tone of Eva’s life story suddenly shifts. The audience learns from Che’s narrative that Eva, the iconic, strong and beautiful wife of the dictator is now sick. Suddenly, Argentina’s powerful heroine starts to become less so, dwindling in front of her beloved husband Juan and audience member’s very eyes. Gnauck delivers a highly impressive and undoubtedly convincing performance to make the audience aware that she no longer possesses the qualities she was once renowned for. Instead, she is now defeated, weak, scared to lose her power and scared to die, and Juan, portrayed convincingly by Kevin Stephen-Jones, does very little to comfort her as he too is consumed by sadness and fear.

This stark contrast of emotion is best exemplified by the numbers “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” and it’s reprise toward the end of the show, with both performances being equally mesmerising. The first time it is sung Gnauck captivates the audience with her passion, determination and strength. The second time, however, audience members are drawn in by her trembling vocals, frail posture and deteriorating confidence. This contrast is a testament to Gnauck’s diverse talent.

Eva Peron died when she was only 33 years old, and as the musical documents her final moments there is a tangible aura of shock and grief to be felt in the theatre. The woman that the audience was rooting for at the end of act one is no more, and through stunning performances from Eva, Che and Juan across act two, audience members can imagine and experience the heartbreaking sorrow that was felt at the time. At the start of act one the audience saw Argentina mourn for Eva, and by the end of act two they are mourning themselves.

There is very little to fault in this unmissable production of one of the world’s best loved musicals. All elements of the show, including the cast, orchestra, set design, choreography and vocals captivate the audience for a number of different reasons. This results in a whirlwind of emotions for everyone involved from start to finish.  Evita is renowned worldwide for capturing the rise and fall of Eva Peron’s life perfectly, and this touring company have pulled out all the stops to achieve exactly what this musical phenomenon is so deeply loved for.

Michelle Townsend