Cape Times

DON’T CRY FOR EVITA

- Robyn Co­hen

ONE of the most-an­tic­i­pated 2017/18 South African mu­si­cal the­atre pro­duc­tions, Evita, wraps up at Artscape on Sun­day.

It has been pro­duced by Pi­eter To­e­rien in part­ner­ship with UK the­atre pro­ducer David Ian. The prin­ci­pals are Emma Kingston as Eva Perón, Robert Fin­layson as Perón and Jonathan Rox­mouth as Che Gue­vara.

If you haven’t seen it, you have the week­end to catch this beau­ti­fully staged re­vival of the orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion in Lon­don’s West End (1978) and in New York on Broad­way (1979).

The last full-scale Evita – with orches­tra and all the big mu­si­cal add-ons – was staged in South Africa in 1981/2. Since then we have seen bon­sai-scaled back pro­duc­tions.

It was – is – a big deal for au­di­ences in Cape Town to Joburg to see a lav­ish pro­duc­tion with sump­tu­ous cos­tumes and sets.

Some of the cre­ative play­ers at the coal­face when Evita was first staged in the late 70s in Lon­don and in New York as­sem­bled in Cape Town and re-cre­ated the orig­i­nal design, sets, cos­tumes and chore­og­ra­phy, work­ing with an SA team of cre­atives.

When the cur­tain goes down on Sun­day, that’s not the end of the Evita story. The pro­duc­tion will tour abroad – in­clud­ing to Sin­ga­pore (Fe­bru­ary 19 to March 19) and Tokyo (July 2-8). It will then land in Aus­tralia and will end up in Lon­don’s West End but will be re-cast.

In Syd­ney, the role of Eva Peron will be played by pop star, Tina Arena. Hal Prince, 89, who di­rected the orig­i­nal West End and Broad­way pro­duc­tion, is cred­ited as di­rec­tor of this pro­duc­tion.

He did not come out to South Africa, but his right-hand per­son, Dan Cut­ner, was in SA as his “proxy” and is cred­ited as as­so­ciate di­rec­tor.

Don­ning the di­rec­to­rial hat in SA as res­i­dent di­rec­tor is An­ton Luit­ingh, who also per­forms in the show. An­other no­table key mem­ber of the re­vival is de­signer Timothy O’Brian – a veteran of the orig­i­nal Evita. The en­er­getic and spry O’Brien, 78, was in Cape Town dur­ing re­hearsals.

Larry Fuller, 79 – who is cred­ited with the US chore­og­ra­phy – was in town, as was Amer­i­can light­ing de­signer Richard Win­kler.

When Evita opens in Sin­ga­pore, it will not be billed as “Evita from SA” but as “Evita, the orig­i­nal West End and Broad­way pro­duc­tion di­rected by Hal Prince”.

A shout-out to Pi­eter To­e­rien and his pro­duc­tion com­pany for be­ing at the helm of the Evita re­vival. It’s very much a proudly South African the­atre mo­ment.

I loved watch­ing Evita and I went a sec­ond time – to see Danielle Bit­ton play Eva Perón. Bit­ton has been the un­der­study for the Evita SA tour. I’d heard she de­liv­ered a ster­ling per­for­mance.

The al­ter­nate Eva is LJ Niel­son, who has also been re­ceiv­ing raves. While I en­joyed Kingston’s per­for­mance (nu­anced char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion and close re­sem­blance to Eva Perón), I felt that she strained vo­cally at times. Vo­cally, the role is ex­tremely chal­leng­ing.

I went specif­i­cally to watch Bit­ton last Thurs­day and I was wowed. I first saw her performing at Shimmy Beach Club a few years ago. It was sum­mer; crowded, noisy There was Bit­ton with this soul­ful voice and elec­tric per­son­al­ity, tran­scend­ing the clank of mo­bile phones and chat­ter.

I went up to her when the band was be­tween breaks and asked her name.

Watch­ing Bit­ton in Evita last week I was thrilled. She has nailed it: voice (for the most part; yes, it is not an easy role), act­ing, emo­tion.

In­ter­est­ing to note Bit­ton has not gone through a ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion mu­si­cal the­atre route. She has done the club and cruise ship cir­cuit and honed her skills along the way. Clearly, she im­pressed the Evita team dur­ing the run and was given the nod to get her own slots. Much de­served. A knock­out per­for­mance.

In many ways, 2017/2018 has been the year of the un­der­study. An­other artist who bowled me over is Edith Plaatjies as Joyce – The She­been Queen – in King Kong, The Mu­si­cal which is on at The Fu­gard un­til Fe­bru­ary 18.

Last year dur­ing the first King Kong sea­son in Cape Town and Joburg, Plaatjies un­der­stud­ied Joyce – the role played by the leg­endary Miriam Makeba in the orig­i­nal King Kong (first staged in 1959 in Jo­han­nes­burg and for two years in Lon­don). As with Bit­ton, Plaatjies did not go through for­mal mu­si­cal the­atre train­ing. She was a back­ing singer.

Camillo Lom­bard, Alis­tair Izo­bell and David Kramer reck­oned she was much more than a back­ing singer and be­gan to cast her in mu­si­cals. From pay­ing her dues in en­sem­bles, she has now very much made her mark in the iconic King Kong. She brings Joyce to life with poignancy and verve – a stun­ning per­for­mance.

Bravo to pro­duc­ers such as Pi­eter To­e­rien, Eric Abra­ham, Hazel Feld­man, David and Re­naye Kramer and Alis­tair Izo­bell for their roles as star-mak­ers – for pro­vid­ing the plat­form for artists in this coun­try and to help them shine abroad. It would be great to see more mu­si­cal pro­duc­ers and di­rec­tors of colour in this coun­try – and women. Just say­ing.

Tickets for Evita are R100-R500. Book at Com­puticket/www.com­puticket.com/0861 915 8000. King Kong tickets are R130-R280. Book at www.webtick­ets.co.za or call the Fu­gard box of­fice on 021 461 4554.

 ??  ?? UN­MISS­ABLE: This week­end is the last chance to see at Artscape, a re­vival of the orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion in Lon­don’s West End (1978) and in New York on Broad­way (1979).
UN­MISS­ABLE: This week­end is the last chance to see at Artscape, a re­vival of the orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion in Lon­don’s West End (1978) and in New York on Broad­way (1979).

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