Bringing Evita dancing back on to the Norwich stage
- Credit: Archant
As Evita continues hotly anticipated run at the Theatre Royal Norwich, ABIGAIL SALTMARSH talks to award-winning choreographer Bill Deamer.
From West End shows to major UK tours - choreographer Bill Deamer has worked on a glittering array of major productions. And among his most recent successes is Evita, currently touring the UK and at Norwich Theatre Royal next week.
As the show, which stars Wet Wet Wet frontman turned West End star Marti Pellow, heads to the city, Bill, who regularly visits Norwich, suggests audiences here are in for a treat.
'I did some of my first work in Norwich, in the early 1990s,' he recalls. 'It was my training ground really – I worked with Desmond Barritt on pantomimes and got to know the Theatre Royal and Norwich well.'
Bill, who won the Broadway World Awards Best Choreography for stage show Top Hat, and has been nominated for Olivier Awards for Follies in Concert and HMS Pinafore, was brought in to revamp the dance numbers in the latest incarnation of big hit musical Evita.
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Penned by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, the show tells the story of Eva Peron, whose life moves from humble beginnings to becoming the wife of the Argentine dictator Juan Peron.
It features some of the most iconic songs in musical theatre, including Don't Cry For Me Argentina, On This Night Of A Thousand Stars, and Another Suitcase In Another Hall, and has won more than 20 awards, including an Oscar for the hit film version starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas.
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'This is a very exciting new version of Evita,' he says. 'Bill Kenwright always has a great eye for Andrew Lloyd Webber's work and so when he invited me to work on Evita I was very pleased. I did say, however, it was important that the dance scenes had a whole new look and feel.'
Bill was impressed with the exciting new plans for show and quickly started coming up with ideas for the dance sections.
'We worked on the staging for Buenos Aires first, which builds into a huge Latin dance number,' he says. 'There are quite a few very dramatic dances in the show.
'Rainbow High is another one that I am very pleased with. It is rather like a film noire and involves angled mirrors. It is particularly cutting edge and everyone wondered if it would work but Bill Kenwright said: 'Let him do it' and it is now one of the highlights of the show.'
Evita has been touring the UK and Europe to great critical acclaim. Shows have been selling out and ending in standing ovations.
'This is a very, very spectacular show and we have been seeing audiences really enjoying it. It still feels very relevant and fresh – I do think Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice were ahead of their time in many ways.'
Bill relishes the challenges presented by different musical shows.
'Top Hat was a film that RKO allowed us to put on stage. We were deeply honoured as we were the first people to be allowed to do it.
'I was offered the rights to the choreography in the film but didn't feel it would work on stage and so came up with something new. It was wonderful to win the Broadway World Award for it.'
Future plans include television as well as stage work. Bill has choreographed numbers for the BBC's So You Think You Can Dance, including group and duet routines in the semi-final and final, and has worked on the channel's flagship prime time competition Strictly Come Dancing.
'I am going to be doing some more numbers for Strictly Come Dancing, which I just love because of the big sets. The television work is so quick though – you have to be able to work to a quick turnaround and then the dance itself just lasts for a minute and 40 seconds – and of course you have all the camera angles to think about too.
'You really do have to know what you are doing but it is great fun.'
Working in dance is hard work and requires dedication but enjoying the success of shows such as Evita adds to the feeling of satisfaction, stresses Bill.
'This is a superb production and the whole cast is wonderful. Marti is sensational and so believable – and his timing on stage is perfect.
'I have very fond memories of my time at the Theatre Royal and know Evita will work brilliantly there. I think this will be a wonderful show for audiences in Norwich.'
t Evita, Norwich Theatre Royal, until July 27, 7.30pm (2.30pm Sat), £31.50-£6.50, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk
EVA & CHE — THE MAGIC OF EVITA
Evita began as a concept album released in 1976. The result of a visit to Argentina by Tim Rice, and the subsequent reunion with Lloyd Webber – their first collaboration since the double-album of Jesus Christ Superstar was unleashed upon a largely unimpressed British public in 1970 – the story of Argentinean president Juan Peron's first wife, Eva.
Like its predecessor, the two-record set embraced all manner of popular music styles. Also like Superstar, it had already produced a smash-hit single, Don't Cry For Me Argentina, which, much to the delight of Tim Rice, would have people 'walking into the theatre whistling the tune'.
The original stage production opened on June 21, 1978 at the Prince Edward Theatre in London with Elaine Paige in the title role, Joss Ackland as her formidable Juan Peron and David Essex as Che.
Stints in Los Angeles and San Francisco followed its huge West End success, before Evita premiered on Broadway at the Broadway Theatre in 1979.
The production ran for an incredible 1,567 performances and won an impressive seven Tony Awards. In 1981, the Evita cast recording was awarded a Grammy. Productions have since been performed all over the world, including in Austria, Spain, Mexico and South Africa. And after several false starts, a big screen version appeared in 1996, starring Madonna, Antonio Banderas and Jonathan Pryce.
Marti Pellow, who takes on the role of Che after stints in The Witches of Eastwick, Chess, Jekyll & Hyde, Chicago and Blood Brothers, admits he had never seen the show before. 'But it's one of those musicals that crosses over into pop. I was familiar with those songs that became pop songs like Don't Cry For Me Argentina and Another Suitcase in Another Hall which were part of mainstream culture. They are testaments to the pop sensibilities of Andrew Lloyd Webber.'
Portuguese singer-songwriter Madalena Alberto plays the title role. 'I researched a lot into Evita's life, looked at a lot of footage and realised there were so many contradictory stories about her. That made me really try and ask as an actress what's more interesting to do here.
'The show is quite negative towards Evita in terms of how she rose to power, so I thought, 'OK, within what's been written, how can I make her more human, more three-dimensional?''