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Review of Sunset Boulevard at the New Wimbledon Theatre

SUNSET BOULEVARD. Danny Mac 'Joe Gillis' and Ria Jones 'Norma Desmond'. Photo Manuel Harlan
SUNSET BOULEVARD. Danny Mac ‘Joe Gillis’ and Ria Jones ‘Norma Desmond’. Photo Manuel Harlan

Sunset Boulevard first hit the London stage back in 1993, based on the 1950 Billy Wilder film of the same name. Sunset Boulevard follows Norma Desmond, a faded movie star living alone in a Hollywood mansion reliving the career she once enjoyed. When Joe Gillis, an out of work writer, crosses her path she sees in him an opportunity to return to her former glory.

You’d be excused for thinking that Danny Mac, of Hollyoaks and Strictly Come Dancing fame, was a prime piece of stunt casting, but nothing could be further from the truth. Putting his theatre training into practice, Mac is more than at home in the role of Joe Gillis. His vocals are crisp and powerful, and he provides the role with all the boyish charm and ambition it deserves. Molly Lynch delivers the role of Betty Schaffer with beautiful clarity, despite the role being tragically underwritten throughout.

Without a true star in the role of Norma Desmond, arguably the original bunny-boiler, this piece would fall at the first hurdle but Ria Jones absolutely shines, portraying both the glamour and madness of Norma with every minute gesture. After covering for Glenn Close in the role on the West End, she more than proves herself to belong in this part; storming the stage, wide-eyed and full of psychotic tension throughout. The ensemble, although not written into a lot of the show, are put to good use ensuring slick transitions and an overall stylish nod to the movie industry throughout by moving scenery, lights and cameras around the ever moving action. This forethought is testimony to the ingenious direction of Nikolai Foster who clearly has a strong grasp on both the theatrical and filmic elements of the piece.

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The design incorporates the movie themes into every aspect of this production. With giant back-lot sliding doors and a myriad of film lights adorning the stage, you couldn’t ask for a more fitting tribute to the golden age of cinema. The set is perfectly complemented by a stunning projection design that bursts into life for car chases and movie flashbacks.

With its sweeping orchestrations, perfectly executed in this production by a wonderful 16-piece orchestra, Sunset Boulevard is widely regarded as one of Lloyd Webber’s more sophisticated scores. It certainly can’t be denied that there are moments of genius embedded in the music but unfortunately the show is held back from ever truly soaring by a lack of musical variation and pace. The show has too many solos numbers and more than a handful of clunky lyrics that really should have been ironed out by now… or perhaps the score is just starting to show its age.

All in all this is a brilliant revival of a show that is sure to thrill audiences for years to come. We can only hope that future productions will be as lavishly produced and feature as much talent as this one does.

4 stars

Review by Dan Reeves

Michael Harrison and David Ian present the Curve production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony Award®-winning masterpiece Sunset Boulevard, stars Ria Jones, who received standing ovations every night when performing the role at the London Coliseum, as Norma Desmond and Strictly Come Dancing’s Danny Mac as Joe Gillis.

One of the all-time great musicals, 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.

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.

Sunset Boulevard
Booking to Saturday 14th April 2018
New Wimbledon Theatre

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