This week Evita returned to the West End’s Dominion Theatre, and as I declared in my review for The Stage, “It’s the oldest cliche in showbiz to stay a star is born, but one has arrived in Madalena Alberto in the title role of the West End’s new Evita.”
But of course it is never as simple as that. Except for those who found fame (or notoriety) in other media, like Lindsay Lohan who makes her professional stage debut in Speed-the-Plow in the West End this week, there’s invariably a stage apprenticeship elsewhere first.
In Alberto’s case, she’d first come to attention as Fantine in the 25th anniversary touring production of Les Miserables that visited the Barbican briefly, but it was a stand-out performance in a much smaller arena where she captivated me: the 50-seater Union Theatre, where she played Lucy in a 2012 production of Frank Wildhorn’s Jekyll and Hyde.
Her performance as Lucy here is one of the best sung in London at the moment. It’s the role that was originated by Wildhorn’s muse (and now former wife) Linda Eder, and Alberto is every bit her vocal equal.
And it proves my point about supporting the fringe earlier this week, and about the opportunities fringe theatre offers to get onto the critical and casting radar.
But it is Evita now – in which she swaps the Union’s 50 seats for 2,069 now at the Dominion – that will mark her true breakthrough.
This is a show, of course, about an unknown actress who became a legend in Argentina, and as I also stated in my review:
It has itself propelled numerous unknown actresses into star players themselves from Elaine Paige and Patti LuPone in the original West End and Broadway productions respectively, to the major discovery of Elena Roger from Argentina who played it in the last London revival in 2006 and subsequently on Broadway. When I first saw London’s latest revival launched as a touring production at Liverpool five years ago, it introduced Louise Dearman, now a star herself.
The show made may have made them stars, but none of those fine ladies came from nowhere. Like Alberto, Dearman had previously played Lucy in a touring production of Jekyll and Hyde in 2004/5, amongst numerous touring and West End ensemble credits.
As I previously wrote of Paige when I hosted a platform interview at the National with her in 2008:
Though she became an overnight star with Evita in 1978, she had served a long 14-year apprenticeship to get there: she had graduated from chorus roles in Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar to a principal role in Billy along the way.
Long before Evita, LuPone too had served her dues – as an original member of John Houseman’s The Acting Company, fresh out of Julliard, and as the Tony-nominated featured actress in a 1975 Broadway musical The Robber Bridegroom. She’d also appeared in the original production of The Bakers’s Wife in 1976, which was aborted on the road to Broadway.
Elena Roger, too, came to London as an established actress, singer and dancer in her native Buenos Aires before she took the title role of Evita in Michael Grandage’s 2006 revival. And as I wrote of that performance in a The Stage interview with her when she returned to the London stage of the Donmar Warehouse in the title role of Piaf a couple of years later:
I saw it five times in all, drawn like a moth to the flame of an incendiary, incandescent performance that burnt up the stage and is now forever etched in memory as one of the greatest I have ever seen in a musical anywhere.
So Evita may have proved a catalyst to set them apart from the crowd. But though its a star-making role, they’ve each earned their dues along the way.