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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 February 2006, 08:34 GMT
Lloyd Webber settles old scores
By Ian Youngs
BBC News entertainment reporter

A new version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Evita is to be staged in the West End this summer - and the composer says the time is right for the return of one of his biggest hits.

Andrew Lloyd Webber with Evita actress Elena Roger
Lloyd Webber said Evita actress Elena Roger was "the real thing"
When Evita first hit the stage in 1978, it broke West End box office records, made stars of its cast, spawned a hit single and confirmed the golden touch of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Jesus Christ Superstar had already wowed theatre fans and Cats, Starlight Express and The Phantom of the Opera were still to come.

Lloyd Webber now says Evita was the high point of his partnership with lyricist Tim Rice, and he is getting rather enthusiastic about bringing it back.

The original ran until the mid-1980s and Lloyd Webber and Rice decided it was not a good idea to revive it on the back of Madonna's star turn in the Evita film in 1996.

But everything has now fallen into place for a return, he says, and a dynamic director, Michael Grandage, has been found to revamp it with a modern touch.

Authentically Argentine

With more opportunity to soak up Latin American music than he had in the 1970s, he also wants to make the new show more authentically Argentine.

Helping him in that task is Elena Roger, the first Argentine to play the country's former first lady Eva Peron in the lead role.

To have a girl who comes in with a fistful of tango albums which she wants me to hear is really pretty exciting
Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lloyd Webber and Grandage auditioned "some really quite well-known actresses on both sides of the pond", the composer says.

But in the end, they were all too influenced by previous Evita stars - be it Elaine Paige or Madonna - whereas Roger was influenced only by Eva "Evita" Peron herself.

"We're very excited to have a girl who's the real thing," Lloyd Webber says.

"She came over to England under her own steam and contacted a girl in our office who is Argentinian and she blew us away."

The 31-year-old Buenos Aries native has a "strong view" of how Peron should be portrayed, he says.

"Although she's far too young to have seen Eva Peron, I suppose it's so much a part of Argentine culture.

'Best person'

"And from my point of view, looking at the orchestration, to have a girl who comes in with a fistful of tango albums which she wants me to hear is really pretty exciting because she can guide me."

There was no temptation to recruit an established star to put more bums on seats, he says, adding he has always tried to pick the best person for the role.

As for the prospect of Madonna reprising her film role, Lloyd Webber says he did not bother asking because she is too old and would be unable to commit to a West End run.

"I really do think Madonna is extraordinary but I just know she wouldn't be interested in doing it, there's just no point in talking to her about it," he says.

Andrew Lloyd Webber at Phantom of the Opera performance
Lloyd Webber's hits also include The Phantom of the Opera
As well as reworking the music for Evita, Lloyd Webber is also preparing to put on The Sound of Music.

"I very passionately believe it's never been done in the way Rodgers and Hammerstein intended it," he says. But that does not mean he is shying away from new work.

The receptions for his latest shows The Woman in White, The Beautiful Game and Bombay Dreams were relatively disappointing - by Lloyd Webber's standards.

No rush

He freely admits he was "never really happy" with the computer-generated sets in The Woman in White, which he did not produce and which is closing later this month.

He also says the current Hungarian version of his football musical The Beautiful Game is "so much better than the London production".

I'm reading books all the time and reading things looking for subjects all the time
Andrew Lloyd Webber
But he will keep writing as long as the ideas keep coming, he insists.

"I'm reading books all the time and reading things looking for subjects all the time.

"But I don't want to rush in to writing something for the sake of writing something.

"I've written now 14 musicals and I've got 36 productions around the world at the moment and we've got the Phantom opening in its new production in Vegas.

"So what I'm doing this year is I'm thinking. I'm going away for a couple of weeks. I may well come back with something, I may not. I'm close to one."

But for now, he is happy to relive and revise past glories.

Lloyd Webber to revive Evita show
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