REVIEW: Sunset Boulevard
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REVIEW: Sunset Boulevard, Mayflower Theatre.
Eleanor Marsden reckons it’s “the best thing she’s seen at the Mayflower!”
It is at times like this that we realise how lucky we are to have a theatre of the calibre of the Mayflower on our doorsteps. Watching the opening of Lloyd-Webber’s 90’s hit, Sunset Boulevard, brought this home, the full orchestra bringing an all-consuming richness of sound to the auditorium and Colin Richmond’s stunningly-creative sets and costumes just as vibrant as if they had been in the West End.
The cast had not a weak link amongst them and the quality of performance and richness of tone was universal. Sunset Boulevard exceeded my every expectation.
Many people will know the story from the 1950 film: faded silent movie star, Norma Desmond, lives as a recluse on the eponymous boulevard until a chance meeting with young film writer, Joe. It is not an easy role: Norma is needy, deluded, and manipulative. Yet by the end we are moved to real compassion for her, despite her faults.
This in spite of the fact that the plot is melodramatic, the characters almost all flawed, the trajectory – tragic. Lloyd-Webber had the luxury of re-writing his original 1993 version and by all accounts, the relationship drama in the subsequent version was much stronger. Make no mistake: melodramatic it may be, but it certainly sucks you into the story.
Those who know their Lloyd-Webber will notice echoes of Evita and Phantom within the songs, yet there are no ‘Memory’-like numbers which you will be humming for ever more. However, this production is lucky enough to feature Ria Jones in the title role (Who? you may ask – a talent to rival Elaine Paige, and yet not an actor I am conscious of having watched before).
Jones not only owns the vocal challenges of singing Norma, she inhabits the gestures and dreaminess of the pre-‘talkies’ era actress to perfection. Dougie Carter, as her reluctant toy boy Joe Gillis, is ably up to the task of carrying the plot and audiences deserve to hear more from him in the future.
A supremely strong cast all deserve a mention, but it is Portsmouth’s Adam Pearce as Max von Meyerling who caused a collective intake of breath when we first heard his wonderfully rich baritone.
Given the state of Hollywood today, and given this musical’s concern with the film industry’s treatment of older actresses, this is an interesting time for a revival. Taken in the context of the story’s era, Sunset Boulevard is a vivid comment on the myth of celebrity and the pressures on women to appear ageless – but at its heart it is a comment on people’s foibles, flaws and free will.
Director Nikolai Foster has a team of creatives working with him to make innovative use of the sets, space and lighting, as well as the addition of projection throughout the production which is particularly fitting in this piece based around Paramount Pictures.
Do not be fooled into thinking that this is a ‘B-list’ Lloyd-Webber. This production puts Sunset Boulevard squarely in the limelight thanks to its stellar cast and creatives. Catch it while you can.