As the Emcee in Cabaret puts it, “Even the orchestra is beautiful!” This Leicester Curve production, of Sunset Boulevard, about to go on a UK and Ireland tour, doesn’t quite replicate the opulent set of the original London production of the early Nineties. No matter: there are some marvellous performances in this company, not least from Ria Jones in the lead role of silent movie star Norma Desmond. Jones, of course, has already proved an acute ability to portray the reclusive diva with delusions of grandeur whilst understudying for Glenn Close in the 2016 English National Opera production. And, as I say, the orchestra, under the baton of Adrian Kirk, is excellent, sounding as though it is at least twice its size. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score for Sunset Boulevard is up there with The Phantom of the Opera.
This comeback for Jones – sorry, sorry, “return” – is well deserved. Her Norma really does possess the ability to say practically anything she wants with her eyes, as it were. Her singing voice is in fine form – particularly stunning is her rendering of ‘Just As If We Never Said Goodbye’. For instance, the irony and subliminal warning to others in the lyric “We taught the world new ways to dream / Everyone needs new ways to dream” was quite palpable.
The staging isn’t perfect, and there’s arguably a little too much unnecessary pushing and pulling of staircases and other bits of set, into positions that honestly don’t, at least from my vantage point, make much difference. That said, it was clear where each scene was set. The visual effects are superb, and don’t just provide something to look at while the orchestra plays the Entr’acte – they enhance the production throughout very effectively.
Joe Gillis (Danny Mac), doubles up as narrator, and his direct addresses to the audience ensure they aren’t entirely ignored for two and a half hours. Mac performs with confidence and gusto, and a song-and-dance number with Jones, ‘The Perfect Year’, provides an opportunity to see, once more, the dancing skills for which Mac received acclaim for on a certain BBC Television series. As ever, Gillis opens both acts with some bitterness towards Hollywood, with varying degrees of justification.
Now, the production photos don’t lie, and the audience couldn’t help but respond to the sight of Danny Mac wearing not very much as he launches into the title musical number. I’m not sure, however, whether the increasing desperation of the character came across as well as it could have.
Elsewhere, Adam Pearce is impressive as Max von Meyerling, an imposing and authoritative figure with a rich and deep vocal that just as deftly hits the high notes. Molly Lynch as Betty Schaefer punches above her weight playing a character that is in some respects comparatively unexciting but is also youthful creativity personified.
This may be a British cast but the accents are all convincingly American. For those familiar with the storyline, there’s something gloriously paradoxical about a finale that results in Ria Jones’ Norma Desmond getting a standing ovation and sustained applause. I certainly felt “the magic in the making” in this magnificent and captivating production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
One of the all-time great musicals, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony Award®-winning (Best Musical, Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical) masterpiece SUNSET BOULEVARD is a compelling story of romance and obsession, based on Billy Wilder’s legendary film, with Don Black and Christopher Hampton’s wonderful book and lyrics. This much-loved score includes the title number Sunset Boulevard, With One Look, As If We Never Said Goodbye, The Greatest Star Of All and The Perfect Year and will be performed by a full orchestra.
In her mansion on Sunset Boulevard, faded, silent-screen goddess, Norma Desmond, lives in a fantasy world. Impoverished screenwriter, Joe Gillis, on the run from debt collectors, stumbles into her reclusive world. Persuaded to work on Norma’s ‘masterpiece’, a film script that she believes will put her back in front of the cameras, he is seduced by her and her luxurious lifestyle. Joe becomes entrapped in a claustrophobic world until his love for another woman leads him to try and break free with dramatic consequences.
RIA JONES – Norma Desmond
DANNY MAC – Joe Gillis
BERNADETTE BANGURA – Jean & Beautician
MATTHEW BARROW – Onstage Swing
DOUGIE CARTER – Artie Green
BENJAMIN CHAMBERS – Jonesy
JOANNA GOODWIN – Onstage Swing
KRISTOFFER HELLSTRÖM – Sheldrake
SIMON LOUGHTON – Manfred
MOLLY LYNCH – Betty Schaefer
JAMES MEUNIER – Myron
GEMMA NAYLOR – Marilyn
FIONA O’CARROLL – Joanna & Katherine
JOANNA O’HARE – Mary & Beautician
JESSICA PAUL – Dawn & Analyst
ADAM PEARCE – Max Von Meyerling
SAM PEGGS – Sammy
CARL SANDERSON – Cecil B De Mille
TOM VINCENT – Cliff
BARNEY WILKINSON – Hog Eye & Morino
MUSIC BY ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER
BOOK & LYRICS BY DON BLACK & CHRISTOPHER HAMPTON
BASED ON THE BILLY WILDER FILM
DIRECTOR NIKOLAI FOSTER
DESIGNER COLIN RICHMOND
CHOREOGRAPHER LEE PROUD
MUSICAL DIRECTOR ADRIAN KIRK
LIGHTING DESIGNER BEN CRACKNELL
SOUND DESIGNER TOM MARSHALL
VIDEO DESIGNER DOUGLAS O’CONNELL
CASTING DIRECTOR DAVID GRINDROD
REHEARSAL AND PRODUCTION PHOTOGRAPHY MANUEL HARLAN