Over the years Andrew Lloyd Webber has made many musicals, some more successful and appealing to the public than the others. Most people will, however, agree that "Evita" remains one of his most satisfying works to this date. Numerous reasons confirm this statement. Just like in its predecessor "Jesus Christ Superstar", "Evita" is almost entirely sung-through; the lyrics are witty and appropriate; the subject matter is again a personality larger-than-life who rises from obscurity and dies at the peak of its fame, thus becoming a legend; the score is captivating and appealing to the listener, at home or in the theatre.
Following the suit of the Superstar, ALW and Tim Rice first published Evita as an album, which appeared in 1976. It was an instant success and soon afterwards the preparations began to put it on the stage. The veteran of the musical theatre direction, Hal Prince, accepted the offer to adapt the original album and Elaine Paige, then an unknown actress and musical theatre performer was cast in the role of Evita. The show premiered in London in 1978, winning acclaiming reviews and numerous awards. And yet, since the concept album was selling so well, the authors felt it unnecessary to release another full version of Evita, with the London cast. That is why we only have this highlights 53-minute recording of the original London production. The story of Evita is widely known, but for those who are new to this let's repeat the essentials: We follow the life story of Eva Duarte Peron, wife of post-World war two president of Argentina, Juan Peron. However, the musical is very loosely based on the actual life of the real Evita. The story follows Evita from the day of her death in July 1952, and then we have flashbacks until that moment, covering her coming to Buenos Aires, alleged love affairs, meeting Peron, being the first lady and dying of cancer at 33.
Being the first theatre version of the somewhat revised concept album material, this disc is not the best recording available. There are several drawbacks. First, it lacks a great part of the show, since all we have here are snippets, i.e., the main musical numbers, meaning it is a bit difficult to follow the story if you are a first-time listener, even though the booklet provides a basic story outline. One of the other obvious weaknesses is the minimalist orchestrations used on this recording. After the lush and epic sound of the concept album featuring the London philharmonics and a rock band, here we have the usual pit orchestra, consisting of only the basic instruments. Thus the beauty of the score remains somewhat lost and is only traceable in hints. The authors seem to be aware of it, since for the upcoming Broadway recording of the show, the orchestrations were improved and sounded clearer.
In addition, the cast performance here is also mixed. Although the role of Eva Peron raised Elaine Paige to stardom, I find her performance not the best, simply because her voice sounds too young. With time her vocal abilities matured, but here she just doesn't reach a much needed uncompromising determination of the character, the way Patti LuPone did on Broadway or Julie Covington on the original album. That is not to say that Elaine performance here is altogether bad, but it could have been much better. David Essex, on the other hand, is a very good Che. He has the strong vocal power Colm Wilkonson and Antonio Banderas both demonstrated in their interpretation, which leaves one wondering why was Mandy Patinkin cast in the role when the show was transferred to Broadway, since he had a very light and unpleasant voice. Joss Ackland, an esteemed British actor is a well chosen Peron, with a suitable dark note in his performance.
The CD comes with a couple of the production photos, but no lyrics are included.
For those of you who are getting acquainted with the story of Eva Peron for the first time I must point out: Bear in mind that this musical is only loosely based on the life of the real Evita. As much as Tim Rice's lyrics are craftily made, they lack a lot of historical accuracy. As a historian I became very interested in Eva Peron's life story so I did some research after seeing the movie. It turned out that the authors based their entire work on a single book called EVITA: THE WOMAN WITH A WHIP by Mary Main. It was based on rumors, lies and myths, written with the single purpose of slandering Eva Peron as much as possible. It contains no footnotes and no bibliography. The authors used it mainly because it was one of the few books available on the subject in the English language during the 70-is. So one should be very careful in making any conclusions based on the musical or the movie alone.
So this disk is more of a welcomed addition for the collectors of the Evita cast recordings, rather than a first-choice album for the new listeners. The latter should get one of the three available 2-CD albums: the 1976 concept recording with Julie Covington, the 1979 Broadway cast with the best Evita of them all, the Tony-winning Patti LuPone, or the very good 1996 movie soundtrack with Madonna in the lead. They all have the complete score and are much more satisfying than this highlights album.