AS A new adaptation of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Sir Tim Rice’s award-winning musical announces a Brighton date this autumn, Madalena Alberto tells us about its enduring appeal

MADALENA Alberto has been here before.

She’s the only actor to have played the role of Argentine political leader Eva Peron – aka Evita – twice. She first took on the character in 2013 and will do so again for a new tour in the autumn. When asked what prompted her to return, her answer is simple.

“I’d missed it,” she says. “There aren’t many parts like this for women in musical theatre so I couldn’t say no. Evita is such a coveted role and such a big challenge.”

The origins of the musical are bizarre. It started life as a “rock opera concept album” released in 1976, the commercial success of which led to a West End production two years later.

It won the Laurence Olivier Award for “best musical” and opened on Broadway a year later, when it became the first British musical to receive a Tony Award. Evita may seem an unusual historical figure to inspire a major, money-spinning show, but her life had all the ingredients for a rousing narrative.

From humble beginnings in a poor Buenos Aires family, Evita went on to enjoy remarkable wealth and power, much of which she ploughed into charity work. She became known as the “spiritual leader of the nation”, achieving a higher status in some people’s eyes than even her husband, Argentine president Juan Peron. And yet some aspects of Evita’s personality remain elusive.

According to Madalena, even historians have been unable to judge her character completely. “She’s a very complex character,” she says. “There are so many accounts of her life and how she might have been, but there’s no one who can pinpoint exactly who she was.”

As Madalena points out, young Evita dreamt of a career in showbiz rather than politics. As a child “she loved the glamour of Hollywood movies and all she wanted to be was an actress”.

Instead, after meeting Juan and finding herself inducted into the national aristocracy, she committed herself to social affairs. “She was the first woman to have any power in politics [in Argentina],” says Madalena.

Madalena’s status as a musical theatre icon is almost as unlikely as Evita’s rise to fame. Growing up in Portugal, a country which “doesn’t have a big theatre tradition”, she wasn’t hugely familiar with the work that Messrs Lloyd Webber and Rice were churning out at an incredible rate.

Neither was she aware of some of the big names to have played Evita before, such as Elaine Page, Patti LuPone and Madonna.

“When I realised the people who have played it, I did watch a few YouTube videos,” says Madalena. “I had to stop myself because the women were so incredible. But I can only be myself.”

Not that Madalena should be cowed by her predecessors. She has a glittering theatrical history including star turns in Les Miserables and War Of The Worlds to name a few. Upon returning to Evita, she noticed her perception of the show had changed.

“Recently there’s been so much in the media about women’s power and women speaking up that I’m looking at Evita in a different way,” she says. “Before I was a bit embarrassed about how forthcoming she was. Now I’m not. I’m less apologetic.”

This topical strand is just another reason why Evita has stayed relevant over the last 40 years. Very few musicals have retained a place in the hearts of theatregoers for that long.


Theatre Royal Brighton,

October 30 to November 3,