A career in Portuguese soap operas seemed to be beckoning for the star of Evita, who is appearing in Sheffield next week, until a scholarship brought her to Britain.
Portuguese actress and singer-songwriter Madalena Alberto, who is playing the title role in the show at the Lyceum, was talent-spotted when the Bird College of Dance, Music and Theatre performance in London spent a week at her dance school in Lisbon.
She said representatives of the college told her: “You’re coming with us” and gave her scholarship to study with them.
Madalena, who has also portrayed Fontine in the 25th anniversary production of Les Miserables and played the title role of Piaf in a seven-year career in musical theatre, said she didn’t know many musicals when she came to Britain.
She added: “I’ve got friends in soap operas and I was convinced that was what my future was. I’m glad I came to this side of the world.”
She said she learned English through watching Hollywood movies. “I used to watch many, many films. I had a lot of time to dream of being an actress.”
Madalena said she had only heard of Eva Peron because of the show but has been fascinated to learn about the controversial character who became a central figure in Argentinian politics in the 1940s.
Evita became the country’s first lady as the wife of the country’s president, Juan Peron. She was a populist figure who built a power base by appealing to the poor.
She supported social welfare benefits and healthcare but also led a life of immense wealth and privilege.
She is still a hotly-debated figure in the country’s politics.
Madalena said: “There are two sides of the story, many people who hate her and have arguments against her.
“Millions still worshipped this woman. She did do some good things, like getting votes for women and working with the trade unions.
“As an actress it was really interesting to work to show both sides, rather than in a very negative way. The show explores that she has slept with men to get to the top.
“I wanted to show how human she was. She really believed she could help her people. She refused to be operated on for cancer because she wanted to be with her people.
“She died when she was 33 and became such an icon. Her death was so sudden. It’s hugely challenging to portray someone who’s dying of cancer and is very ill.”
She added: “It’s been a very challenging role but a wonderful, wonderful experience. It’s very exhausting but it is lovely. It’s been very enjoyable.“
Madalena reckons that Evita is the most challenging in musical theatre for a woman because her voice has to cover a wide range from low to high, as well as playing highly emotional scenes.
She added: “I’m in tears very night. It feels good. If you get it to that place, the audience is with you. Then you finish the show and feel great.”
Madalena said: “I was allowed a lot of space to give my own interpretation of it. I’ve been really lucky. They really tested me. We only had two weeks of rehearsals but it went fine.”
Evita is at the Lyceum Theatre from next Monday, July 1, to July 13, and co-stars former Wet Wet Wet frontman Marti Pellow in the role of Che.
Box office: 0114 249 6000 or go to http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/
Following the tour, Madalena is working on a musical adaptation of Therese Raquin, the classic novel by 19th-century French writer Emile Zola.
It tells of a woman trapped in an unhappy marriage who kills her husband with her lover. The pair marry but their lives are torn apart by the guilt.
She said: “I love working with new shows. This is a show that has been written with me in mind.
“The music is simply stunning. I don’t think anyone will have heard will have heard anything like it.”
The show is due to be produced at the Finsbury Theatre in London next spring.