DON’T CRY FOR EVITA
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.