Sunday, September 7, 2014

Santa Evita

Please note: Tampereen Työväen Teatteri invited me to see the premiere of this production for free.

A while ago, I listed Tampereen Työväen Teatteri's Evita as the musical I'm most eagerly looking forward to this fall.

It was worth the wait.

If you're not familiar with the musical, maybe take
a quick trip to Wikipedia and then come back.
I'm going to write this one from the perspective of an avid fan.

The new Finnish production has two alternating casts in four of the leading roles. I saw the show twice during the premiere week but only caught one combination: Maija Rissanen as Eva, Jari Ahola as Che, Ilkka Koivula as Perón, Lari Halme as Magaldi and Emmi Kaislakari, who has no alternate, as the Mistress.

Rissanen makes a lovely Eva. She is very human. Her Eva seems to believe she's working for the better, even if she likes indulging in pretty dresses and jewels while doing so. She has that almost scary ambitious and determined streak, sure, as witnessed during her speech after Don't Cry for Me, Argentina. But by the end, it's upsetting watching her dream of the vice-presidency – wondering if she's convincing herself any more than Perón or the audience.

Rissanen sings mostly beautifully but sounds a bit strained on the highest notes. On the other hand, so do many Evas, even on the cast recordings I've listened to. I suppose Andrew Lloyd Webber didn't really stop to consider the limits of the human voice while composing away.

I like how the relationship in between Perón and Eva works here. It maybe starts as something of a calculated, sensible match – but later, Perón seems truely devastated by Eva's decline, in a restrained way. Maybe he's thinking about how his wife's death will reflect on his popularity, but I've a hard time believing there's not some sorrow in the mix too.

Then there's Che, my favourite character. I didn't have to be disappointed one bit. First of all, Ahola sounds perfect in the part. I could listen to him the whole night, and seeing how this production gives Che some extra lines (for example, half of Lament), I'm pretty much getting my wish. Ahola's acting is to my tastes too, sarcastic and full of life. Bonus points to the production for taking the everyman Che route. I've always felt that adding Che Guevara to the historical mix is a bit too confusing.

This production gives Che and Eva a lot of time together. They dance together during Buenos Aires already, and Che is present in the action most of the time. There are lots of nice small moments in between the two. I like, for example, the bit just before And the Money Kept Rolling In: Che mentions that the poor are still sad and miserable, and in an I'm-already-ahead-of-you-my-friend type of a gesture, Eva brings the foundation in. The two have so much interaction that The Waltz for Eva and Che – in many versions, the only time the characters directly interact – almost feels underwhelming.

I look forward to seeing the other set of alternates: Laura Alajääski as Eva, Juha-Matti Koskela as Che, Mika Honkanen as Perón and Vesa Kietäväinen as Magaldi. I hear their interpretations are quite different from the cast I saw. Wonder how different the show will feel like when I eventually see them?

TTT's Evita looks very good. The sets, by Teppo Järvinen, are rather simple and have a two-dimensional look, but in a good way. Sometimes, few simple elements are all that is needed to fill a big stage. And Marjaana Mutanen's costumes! Eva really shines like a diamond. Her Don't Cry for Me Argentina costume is one of the most beautiful I've seen.

The music has some awkward gaps in between the songs and the orchestrations are rather synthetic (apparently they're using backing tracks in addition to the band) and not too imaginative. They do get the job done, though, the music sounds good. Maybe I just would've wished to hear an orchestration that doesn't sound like the cast recordings I've already heard.

As a whole, Tiina Puumalainen's direction rolls along smoothly. There however are some bits and pieces that I don't quite understand. For example: why does Che break down crying next to Eva's coffin during the Requiem, though the next moment he's sassing her and practically dancing on her grave? The very beginning and the very end don't click together as neatly as they wish they would, and some moments along the way don't really connect to the whole. But these are mostly just annoying details. When thinking about the big picture, they're easily forgotten.

A nice thing about Evita the musical is that it can make people curious about history – and it depicts the life of its titular character with a surprising amount of accuracy. Leaving the theatre, I overheard people wondering if some event from the musical really happened in Eva Peròn's life... Thumbs up to TTT for an informative souvenir programme with a timeline of the real Evita's life!

Beforehand, I was a little worried.

I've seen Evita a couple of times, and usually, the productions have been disappointments. I'm glad to see how well the story moves along in this version. The new Finnish production doesn't offer any mind-blowing new ideas (such as the ending of the recent Danish production – I've since found out that's how the original script ends, but it was surprising nevertheless, seeing how few productions do it), but it tells the story of Eva Perón in a solid, interesting, even touching way.

I've booked my next ticket already. Tampereen Työväen Teatteri's Evita is maybe not going to be an A list favourite for me, but it's definitely something I enjoy and something I'll want to return to.

Photos by Teppo Järvinen.
TTT:n Evitasta suomeksi mm. One Night in Theatre & Kulttuurikarppaaja.

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