After ruffling a few feathers across the pond when Jesus Christ Superstar landed on Broadway, you might think that uppity young Brits, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice – now pillars of respectability as Lord Lloyd Webber and Sir Tim – would have thought twice before immortalising a fascist dictator in song. Musical theatre history teaches us that Evita conquered the West End before carrying off seven Tony Awards on Broadway (though not before the American critics had had their say). Now Hal Prince’s 30-year-old original production – the blueprint for most subsequent stagings – is returning to Australia. So how did such unusual subject matter become box office gold, and why have actors from Elaine Page and Patti LuPone to Tina Arena and Madonna fought so hard to play Eva Perón?

“It’s a Cinderella story about a remarkable woman,” an affable Sir Tim...

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