The first time I heard Michelle Weston sing, she was utterly drowned out by 100 Brownies enthusiastically belting out ‘Let it Go’ during one of Larbert Opera’s memorable pantomimes.
My suspicions that – beneath the decibels – she had a very fine voice were confirmed by subsequent shows, but I’ve never seen anything that showcases her talent the way this show, Evita, does.
The story of Eva Peron, based on the real-life story of the penniless actress who married Colonel Juan Peron and became one of the most famous women in the world, demands someone with ‘star quality’ the musical refers to.
Michelle Weston not only has a superb voice, she also has a commanding stage presence as befits a portrayal of Evita, who cajoles her husband into his bid for power and dazzles the people along the way, before succumbing to illness, aged just 33.
But while one woman dominates, it’s far from a one-woman show and Evita has an admirable foil in Che, the narrator and commentator, whose job it is to see past the Dior gowns and diamonds and ask what’s really going on?
Iain Davidson, a stalwart of local stages, is in fine form in this role, and he delivers a smooth, coolly ironic performance.
Another stalwart, John Coe, who is always watchable with a light comic touch, gets to hit the high notes as nightclub singer Magaldi – something he does with enviable ease.
Juan Peron is always a difficult character to read – manipulated or manipulative, you decide - but in Graeme Rodger’s portrayal, there’s no doubting his tender sincerity towards his wife.
The Mistress doesn’t get much stage time, but then she does get one of the show’s best songs and Jennifer Kay Brisbane’s poignant ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’ was an undoubted highlight.
But there’s no doubting that this musical has one killer number – the powerful anthem ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ is one of the all-time greats and Michelle Weston does it full justice.
The show is expertly directed by Derek D Easton with choreography by Yolande Borthwick and the chorus is used to tremendous effect by musical director Jan Cunningham in the opening and in big numbers such as ‘A New Argentina’ and ‘And the Money Kept Rolling In (And Out)’.
Evita is an unusual musical and a challenging one – but as regulars have come to expect from Larbert Opera – their bravery is rewarded with an excellent show.
Political ambition, corruption, exploitation – it’s not the obvious stuff of musicals, but it takes the audience on a surprisingly complex and very satisfying journey.