Bristol Hippodrome

Until February 18

NO matter how well you think you know the storyline of a musical, this production proves that there's always something new and exciting to find in a live show.

Evita was first performed in London 40 years ago, bringing the tale of Eva Peron and the struggle that changed Argentina to the world stage.

Many people are more familiar with the film version, starring Madonna, a comparison which probably haunts every actress who has taken on the role since.

Emma Hatton, who plays the lead here, takes on the challenge with gusto and some amazing vocal performances, and her interpretation of Evita's character really brings home the pathos of the short-lived diva's dying days, wringing murmurs of appreciation and pity from Tuesday night's audience.

Her story, as she says, is not that unusual - local girl makes good and marries well - and her vehmenence as she defends herseld, declaring that she did her best for the country she loves, shows her as much more than merely a scheming goodtime girl on the make (and take).

Her magnificent voice is matched by that of leading Italian performer Gian Marco Schiaretti, making his UK debut as Che, who reflects the voice of the Argentine. Watching her every move from the sidelines or centre stage, playing the role of the people in her destiny, he is quite simply magnificent, singing or silent, panther-like as he prowls in and out of the shadows which surround the Perons at every turn.

Kevin Stephen-Jones is compelling as President Juan Perón, somewhat amazed at his own rise to power and touching hearts as he realises the woman he defied convention to have by his side will soon be leaving him and the country which has raised her to sainthood status, forever.

Director Bob Tomson opts for tender cameos and powerful portraits rather than huge crowd scenes in this production, relying on the strength of the music to carry the story.

I would have liked to have seen a few more impressions of the way Evita captured hearts, feeling that some of the strongest chorus scenes were those featuring the uptight, disapproving, Argentine upper class, who sneered, insulted and tolerated Evita and her peasant energy and enthusiasm.

Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita is iconic. Featuring some of the best loved songs in musical theatre, including Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, On This Night of a Thousand Stars, You Must Love Me, Another Suitcase in Another Hall and High Flying Adored, the music is the real star of the show here.