The reviews for Gala Opera’s last show Sunshine on Leith were so overwhelmingly fantastic, it was difficult to see how they could top it.
And the answer seems to have been to go in a completely different direction – going from pop favourites to true operatic splendour – and it has worked a charm.
Producer and musical director Jeff Thomson has spent 25 years getting the best out of his charges and that experience definitely counted in this ambitious production, which catches the audience from beginning to end.
We know from the first scene that it’s not going to end well for our titular character Eva Peron, as news of her death comes through.
Ruth Davidson takes you through the whole gamut of emotion in her portrayal of the flawed actress, who in act one shows a particular lack of morals, sleeping with whoever will help her to the top and binning them as soon as someone better comes along, and being pretty horrible about it to just about everyone else. By the end of the first act, you are left with the peculiar feeling that you don’t feel particularly bad that the end is fairly nigh for her.
But throughout the second act, Ruth pulls it all around and plays with your emotions, winning the audience around in much the same way that Peron herself hypnotised the poorer classes in Argentina.
Her portrayal of Eva’s descent into illness, and her sudden realisation that love is – all to late – able to melt her heart, tugs at the heartstrings, and her delivery of the show’s signature song, Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, which manages to convey different meanings in things each of the four times it is sung, is sublimely controlled.
Society president Ivor Lumsden provides provides a fantastically brash Colonel Peron – he never lets the side down with his tone and word-perfect singing. His own march to power is as wicked as Eva’s and it is that matched history that pulls the pair closer together under pressure from the military.
Pulling the show together – and providing the moral compass for everything around him – is Michael Hyslop’s narrator Che, whose cynical insights into the Peron steamroller are welcome. Michael’s performance is a force majeure, cleverly timed, superbly polished, with a voice to grace any stage.
His opening number Oh What a Circus is a joy, and he keeps that energy going throughout.
And Craig Monks, who plays Eva’s first conquest Magaldi, is entirely believable as the tango singer who is also the first in a long line of men to be cast aside. His song On This Night of a Thousand Stars does its job of taking you back in time to pre-war South America.
Also of note is Kirsty Cleland’s unnamed Mistress. After being unceremoniously booted out of the Peron household by Eva, her song Another Suitcase in Another Hall is a real highlight.
The flamenco and tango dance numbers are expertly dealt with by the large cast, and the rest of the cast do an amazing job of supporting the leads as well as taking on a huge amount of responsibility on their own, while the orchestra provide a balanced yet energetic instrumental backing.
The background crew complete the whole, with seamless scene changes, fantastic projected sets and an earthquake that you can actually feel – if you are up in the bleachers you probably don’t even want to know how they do that!
It all adds up to another triumph for the society, who have their work cut out, once again, to top this remarkable show next year.