The controversial role of Evita

Discover all the oohs and ahhs surrounding Evita's past and present leading ladies.

The controversial role of Evita
Photo credit: Emma Kingston, Jonathan Roxmouth for EVITA (2017, UK tour)

Don’t cry for Evita anymore Australia (we know you were). It’s been long overdue but the iconic musical about the rise and fall of an Argentinian-political-fashionista will march onto the Australian stage at the end of this year. Beginning its run at the Sydney Opera House in September, it will then make its way to Arts Centre Melbourne in early December. Our hype for opening night has already peaked with the recent announcement that legendary Australian songstress Tina Arena will be our leading lady. Adored nationwide since her days blossoming on '70s hit TV show Young Talent Time, Arena has no doubt scored the role because of her acting talent, stage presence and we also suspect because of her amazing set of pipes.

The ability to hit those high notes is a must when it comes to taking on this legendary role, which in the past has become infamous for either defining or deflating an actress’s performance.

This controversial status started all those eons ago when a tiny bundle of dynamite by the name of Elaine Paige auditioned for the lead role in the premier 1978 West End production. To get her hands on the role Paige had to battle her way through eight rounds of auditions “It was the show that changed my life overnight but getting the part was like running a marathon” Paige said. But auditioning was just the beginning – Evita was to be no ordinary musical.

With most shows having dialogue between songs, Evita would be all sung. “The rehearsals were intense, the score was very challenging, we were attempting something completely new for British musicals” Paige said.

It seems this challenging feeling was mutual for Broadway starlet Patti LuPone when taking on the role for Evita’s Broadway debut in 1979. LuPone is considered by many to have given one of the most iconic performance of Evita ever, which we're sure you'll agree with after watching her '80s Grammy’s performance:

Even though LuPone won a Tony for her role, she has stated that the experience was more of drag than a delight. “We never worked a full rehearsal without microphones and then before the opening we had a full twelve hour day, plus an orchestra rehearsal with no microphones. After that I had no voice,” LuPone said. After visiting a voice doctor LuPone recounts that he told her, “your vocal chords are like raw hamburger meat. You can’t sing for five days.” Shaken, LuPone answered, “but I’m opening in five days!”.

After the show's run, LuPone never performed an Evita song again until recently, when she took to the stage at the 2018 Grammy Awards and blessed us with a rendition of ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’, once again showing us why her iconic status has lasted all these years.

There may only be one performance that is as famous as our Patti’s and that is from pop princess Madonna. Yes, in the '90s Hollywood attempted a movie version of Evita and in choosing to make a film, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Parker may have bitten off more than they could chew. Despite a cast including Madonna and Antonio Banderas, the movie was a bit of a muddle that painted Che as a grumpy stalker. To her credit, Madonna hit all the right notes throughout the film, supposedly taking voice lessons to extend her range. She easily mastered the musical material. When singing the song 'Rainbow High' – “they need to adore me, to Christian Dior me,” – she’s right on the money.

Controversial role or not, we know that our Tina will grab this part by the horns and kick its butt! “She has the most incredible gifted voice... Every time we speak about it, she talks about inhabiting the role and bringing a real truth to the character,” praises musical director Guy Simpson.

Visit Sydney Opera House or Arts Centre Melbourne to get your tickets.