Carmen Paddock gets a sneak peak at the highly anticipated Footlights production of Evita.
One of the highlights of second term comes at the end of January, when Footlights puts on their annual musical theatre production at the Northcott. This year, they are taking on Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita. While not as renowned as Cats or The Phantom of the Opera, its massive scale and show-stopping numbers arguably make it his masterpiece. Just over two weeks before opening night, a preview of the show promises one of the finest productions by Exeter Students when it hits the stage for its 28th-31st January run.
Naturally the rehearsal run was not quite complete – neither set nor costumes were used, and some of the band was missing – but the show’s electric energy is already thrilling. The incomplete band already sounds terrific, tackling Webber’s tricky score with gusto (special mention goes to the trumpet and the electric guitar). The ebullient cast’s focus and skill are very impressive, especially in the elaborate, acrobatic dance numbers – the grace, flexibility, and strength of the performers are stunning. The volatility and devotion of the Perons’ surging crowds are vibrantly captured by the massive chorus numbers; ‘A New Argentina’ is a chill-inducing finale to the first act.
This grand scale is then skilfully contrasted with more intimate moments and excellent characterisation of the lead characters. Helena Dudley, as Peron’s Mistress, lends a sweet voice and gentle demeanour to a touching rendition of ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’. Alex Deakin is vocally spot on and convincingly charming as Magaldi, the nightclub singer who unwillingly and unwittingly brings Eva to Buenos Aires. The three lead roles – Eva, Che, and Juan Peron – are relentlessly demanding, but the three young actors rise to the physical, vocal, and emotional challenges admirably.
As the titular character, Daniela Parkes’ presence is ferocious. She inhabits Eva, effortlessly transforming from wilful teenager to commanding seductress to national leader. Her Eva knows just how to charm and manipulate people to advance her and her husband’s careers, but the fear and grief she lets through her character’s façade of control was beautiful. Eoin McAndrew, as Che, captivates with his charm and charisma, instantly winning the audience with his cheeky commentary and understated nonconformist attitude. His mellifluous voice and piercing gaze captures this cynical revolutionary’s changing ideology, interrogating characters, events, and even the audience themselves while remaining detached from it all. Lastly, Will Beynon gives a tremendous performance as Juan Peron. He creates a believable, honest, human character – never portraying the calculating politician without the insecurities underlying his power, never showing the idyllic marriage without the underlying tensions of a state partnership. His tender moments with Eva sell the poignancy and intimacy of the otherwise epic show.
This fierce, moving show is quite possibly the finest production I’ve seen Footlights put on in the three years I’ve been at Exeter – and it is still in rehearsal stages! Get your tickets at the Northcott now – Evita is not one to miss!
Follow Exeposé Arts on twitter and like us on Facebook here.