Jennifer Hardie as Eva Peron (left); Christina Rose Leon as The Mistress (right). Photos: Bob McDevitt
Something special is happening this week in the south side of Glasgow - no not another change in MP but rather a very different dominant political force altogether.
Runway Theatre opened their new production of EVITA this week and the fact that is sold out months ago - literally a week after tickets were released - signaled that this would be something very special. And so it is.
I have a very close link with this show - it was one of my first professional gigs in the 1990s when it toured starring Marti Webb and I've been involved with the National and European Tours over the past seven years. So I was curious to see how Runway would transfer this "large scale" musical show to Eastwood.
Thankfully the director Robert Fyfe has followed the now popular London trend of taking big book shows into smaller venues and does it work - yes and then some! The first thing you notice about this production is that is looks fantastic. A wonderful set design by Margot Traynor is utilized well throughout the evening and the company look fantastic in well dressed period costumes by June Young from "That Look's Good" - and it does!
There are three powerhouse performances in this production and the first comes right at the top of the show - the ensemble. This isn't any ensemble infact the phrase "if Carlsberg did ensembles........." comes to mind. These are people who have quite clearly gone and done their own homework and have nailed this musical score. The power, strength and sheer beauty they produce throughout the evening is a total joy to witness and brings this Lloyd-Webber score to life as well as any professional production does. I lost count of how many "leading" performers I spotted in this line up with some even making an ensemble debut!
Tom Russell plays a more straight-laced Magaldi than I have seen in the past but his soaring vocals certainly won over the audience. Christina Rose Leon could have been carved out to play the Mistress - her look, presence and powerful yet heart-pulling rendition of "Another Suitcase In Another Hall" was another audience winner and she certainly made the most of her time in this cameo role.
James Campbell Kerr, a Glasgow stalwart, again proved why he has been at the top of his game for so many years. His voice was always been ahead of it's time and this role sits beautifully in his range. His colours, phrasing and technique in the very difficult recitative passages seemed effortless. He imposed his power on stage without taking away from his leading lady.
Johnny Collins is the second powerhouse performance of the evening in the much sought after musical theatre role of Che. An obvious favourite with the audience, Johnny is quickly establishing himself as Glasgow's leading leading man. This guy has charisma in buckets - if he could bottle it, he could open a shop. He takes the audience into the palm of his hand from the opening number and we are more than happy to stay right there with him throughout the evening. He is barely of the stage. His vocals are faultless throughout and I'm quite sure there were a few women who didn't notice much more on the stage.
Runway are fortunate to have two wonderful girls sharing the title role of Eva Peron, Caroline Telfer and Jénnifer Hardie. At this performance Jennifer Hardie played the role of Eva. Jennifer Hardie gave a powerhouse performance and made the transition from young Eva to the dominant political figure with ease, class and immaculate timing. She has the triple threat required for this role - singing, dancing, acting. Her movement is impressive and she is comfortable leading a full company. Her vocals are stunning and she has the colours, diction and phrasing spot on to capture this woman and her rise to would-be-power. Vocally she was on the money for the entire evening much to the delight of the audience. In act two the audience could literally see the decline in her character as we saw the ill Eva finally have to admit defeat. Jennifer gave one of the best renditions of "The Final Broadcast" I have seen.
It would be remiss of me not to note the sterling applauds and reviews that Caroline has had on these pages for her own performance and I know from first hand experience that her more than capable vocal ability sits well in this score!
This production is clever on many levels and the intimacy of the theatre pulls us right into the action and probably accounts for the burst of emotion from the audience at the end. Greg Robertson has created fantastic and creative choreography that both entertains and moves the story on. He works the company well - everyone dances, everyone moves - there are no passengers.
Greg is a most welcome addition to the Glasgow scene and brings a whole new perspective to the look and feel of these productions. I have a feeling we will be seeing a lot more of his work. David Dunlop controls a well balanced band who soared in the right places and were never over powering. Both he and the company worked well with what I believe was quite a temperamental obligatory click track.
Well done Runway for staging a show of this standard. I say we need more!
They say things happen in threes and I've now seen three fantastic productions in as many months. Maybe I'll stay at home for a while!
Johnny Collins as Che. Photo: Bob McDevitt