Lucy O’Byrne will be your Evita in Portsmouth

Lucy O'Byrne (Eva Pern) and Mike Sterling (Juan Pern) - Evita UK Tour - (c) Pamela Raith
Lucy O'Byrne (Eva Pern) and Mike Sterling (Juan Pern) - Evita UK Tour - (c) Pamela Raith

After a long stint as Maria in The Sound of Music, Lucy O’Byrne really wasn’t sure she was going to get the chance to play Eva in Evita.

As she says, you really couldn’t imagine two more different characters.

And yet, producer Bill Kenwright took a chance with her, just as had taken a chance with her as Maria.

“I will always be incredibly grateful to that man!”

The show plays Southsea’s Kings Theatre from November 13-17 (02392 828282).

Telling the story of Eva Peron, wife of former Argentine dictator Juan Peron, Evita follows Eva’s journey from humble beginnings through to extraordinary wealth, power and status and her crowning as the “spiritual leader of the nation” by the Argentinian people.

“The Sound of Music was wonderful,” Lucy recalls.

“I had a brilliant time. I stayed long enough! I ended up going back after a year off. It is just a classic. There is nothing more really that you can say. It is huge. Maria goes on such a journey. It is the story of her coming of age and finding her path. She goes from playing hooky at the convent to all the responsibility of the children.”

Even more remarkable is the journey that Eva goes on, from the dodgiest of beginnings to almost saint-like status.

“I had played the role in college. It was my final musical in college, and it was only for a week.

“And I always wanted the chance to play it again, but I always assumed that I would never get the chance, that it was just a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

“But it came up in my final week of The Sound of Music.

“I knew that Bill was looking for a new Eva, but I didn’t think he would necessarily see me for Eva Peron. You couldn’t get two more different people than her and Maria! I thought they would just always see me as Maria as all raindrops and roses and they would think that I wasn’t right for Eva, which is understandable when you see someone in a particular way. So my agent had to push a little bit.

“But Bill took the chance on me. I went into Bill’s office and sang for him. I did two songs.

“I sang Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina and You Must Love Me. There is a piano in his office as you would expect there to be.

“The musical supervisor was there and one of the producers was there, and I just tried to get into the role. You have no idea what is going to happen.

“But Bill took a chance with me. He gave me my first big show with Maria and now this. I will always be grateful.”

As for the two characters, well, the only similarity is that it means another set of blonde wigs for Lucy.

Her approach is to believe in Eva: “I am tasked with telling her story. I have to believe in everything that Eva did… even though a lot of it was questionable. If you look at the facts, she was the wife of a fascist dictator, and a lot of what we know about her was propaganda. They controlled the media. They controlled everything.

“So history doesn’t actually know a great deal about her. None of it is gospel because people were afraid to talk about them even after Eva died and Peron lost power. There is very little concrete information.

“They had her background removed. Record offices were mysteriously burnt down in the night. It is hard to know what happened.”

But Lucy is clear how best she needs to approach it all as an actress. She knows she has to give the character she is playing the benefit of the doubt.

“I have to believe that she did what she did for the good of the people.

“I have to play her like I believe that she had the best motives and that she wanted to benefit the people. I have to believe that she set out to do right and that she did do right.”