It haunts me, Marti Pellow's mesmeric debut at Ronnie Scott's with Wet Wet Wet. I can remember standing next to Debbie Bennett. 1988, wasn't it, Deb? I remember, too, all the hoochin'-an'-a-smoochin' at that year's Montreux Rockfest. Those Clydebank boys party, I should have known, from all the years spent hanging with Jim Diamond. While the other guys looked a bit also-ran, Marti oozed charisma and killed with those eyes. Everyone urged him to ditch the band and go for it solo. He'd never do it, though. In the end, it was Tommy the drummer who quit, and that was that. Goodbye band, and thanks for giving 'Love is All Around' a go for 'Four Weddings', extending dear Reg Presley a good few cushioned years before he trogged off to the sky. Solo Marti fell off the side after that, and succumbed to the hard stuff. Got clean, effected a comeback, and found his feet in musical theatre. Were I to write that as rock fiction, it would be junked as implausible. Yet it's what happened.
So, Marti in EVITA as Che: some insist 'Guevara', others point out that this character was a classic Tim Rice invention, the anonymous narrator, the Greek chorus, a device so effectively tested earlier in 'Joseph'. Anyway. I'd heard great things about his performance in last year's touring production, and was keen to lap it up. But what happened? A vocal delay - mic-ing or transmission problems, maybe, or was it me? - proved distracting, of both my ability to focus on the lyrics, and of Marti's to sing them. He never really found his groove last night. This mildly 'behind', hiccuping delivery seemed a metaphor for the entire performance. The sinister rumbling, at three-minute intervals, of the trains beneath the foundations of the old theatre - something I'd never noticed during my many attendances at 'We Will Rock You' and 'Time' - heralded the Argentinian earthquake re-enacted in the piece, and evoked a sense of the past warning the present that it needs to get its act together. I have been known to overthink things.
Woe is me for having gorged on the original 'Evita'. For having fallen passionately, irrevocably in love with David Essex's Che, Joss Ackland's Peron, Elaine Paige's Eva. That production made 3,000 sumptuous performances over 8 astonishing years. Patti Lupone originated the lead role on Broadway in 1979, but later declared that she hated it. More fool her, it was the first British creation to win the Best Musical Tony. Before all that, though, Rock Follies' heartbreaker Julie Covington made a worldwide hit of the signature song, and Barbara Dickson did commendably with the lament of Peron's mistress, 'Another Suitcase In Another Hall.' These songs loom large on the soundtrack of my youth. They don't write them like that anymore. Not even Rice and Lloyd-Webber do.
Overall? I'd have to say, a little dated. The pace is patchy, and at times way too slow. The vital sense of the grandeur, and the historical importance of Eva Peron's life, seem lost. Perhaps musical theatre, having come so far since Evita first opened in 1978, is diluted, reduced, to a less tastebud-tingling and so-what sauce these days. Jukebox musicals rule, ok, and wider audiences are ok with it. They know all the words.
Still, we quirk and twitch and are aroused by the paso doble- and tango-imbued music. We deep-breathe the magic, and try to be there, back in 1940s Argentina. She was a remarkable woman, Eva: an under-age gutter-scrubber who popped her cherry to an oily cabaret singer and cornered him into carting her off to Buenos Aires, where she did the MAW thing, as the girls say today - Model, Actress, Whatever - got on the radio and made a name. Sleeping your way to the top ain't no new thing. Eva aimed high. She landed the guy who couldn't wait to be king, er, President. She then 'saw the error of her ways', owned up to erroneous ambitions of fortune and fame (she got them anyway) and reinvented herself as the charity queen and saviour of her people, sanctified, reborn, still dripping in diamonds. Cancer took hold as she was preparing for election herself, as vice-president. In true rockstar fashion, the best thing she could do for her image and profile was die, and she did. Her embalmed body, destined for a gawdy and grotesque monument, went missing for 17 years. A musical in itself.
The lyrics will always be exquisite. The score can be lumpy and self-interrupting at times, but rises in glory. What a partnership Rice and Lloyd-Webber were. The ultimate double helix, a magical twist of individual strands and strengths wrenched together in perfect harmony. If we could turn back time.