MusicalNorth WestReview

Sunset Boulevard – Liverpool Empire

Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber

Book & lyrics: Don Black and Christopher Hampton

Director:  Nikolai foster

Reviewer:  Daryl Holden

Hollywood: A place where dreams are made, but also where those dreams can meet their end. Perhaps this is true for none more so than the characters of Sunset Boulevard who, in this tale of love, lust and loneliness, shine a spotlight into the darker side of Hollywood.

Set in 1950’s California, Sunset Boulevard follows the struggle of Norma Desmond, a forgotten silent movie star who is desperate to make a return to the spotlight after meeting Joe Gillis, a screenwriter trying to get his next big break. Inevitably, a working relationship turns into a relationship that’s uneasy at the best of times and it all ends in tragedy.

It’s a story that’ll keep your interest no doubt, but also one that can feel like somewhat of a slog to get through at points. The first act delivers us all the information we could possibly need and serves as the set up for a sharper and juicier second half. Of course, we need the context to be able to enjoy the show as a whole, but you can’t seem to shake the feeling that some dialogue repeats itself or some scenes keep jamming their foot in the door as we try to move on, outstaying their welcome on stage.

It is, however, the characters performing in said scenes that allow it to continue. A fantastic cast create vivid and well-realised character performances with Danny Mac and Ria Jones standing out as Joe Gillis and Norma Desmond respectively, alongside a supporting ensemble really display where this production’s strengths lie. The second half allows these performances to truly bring it up another notch and the superb opening number in Act Two by Mac is the standout moment of the entire piece.

With the ensemble work, set and lighting, the show has an almost cinematic quality to it, paying homage to the 1950’s Hollywood it lovingly recreates. An ever-changing, detailed and impressive set by Colin Richmond portrays two distinct worlds of the old and the new, which is a repeating dilemma that Desmond herself faces throughout. The transitions between scenes are fluid, immersive and entertaining, with each variation of the set creating an entirely new dynamic.

Alongside this, the use of some very detailed lighting design by Ben Cracknell, coupled with the ingenious and well-intertwined utilisation of projection and video designed by Douglas O’Connell, makes the production appear as if we are watching a movie in the making. It has an air of professionalism and cinematic quality that is rarely seen on stage and does its best to blur the lines between theatre and film.

The accompanying orchestra provide a beautiful rendition of the soundtrack, only further improving the cinematic angle this piece strives to achieve. The talents of this orchestra is matched only when they are accompanied by the singing of the cast on stage, all of which show full confidence in their abilities, and provide truly powerful performances and possess the ability to make you see the truth behind the lyrics of the songs. The ensemble do most of the work here, letting the main characters take the spotlight, while they in turn swap the scenery and such, while still keeping the energy they need at a high.

Sunset Boulevard is a show that highlights the darker side of Hollywood by fashioning the glitz and glamour it has become famous for into weapons to use against it. It’s an easy to follow story but that isn’t where the true beauty of this piece lies. Instead, what sets this piece apart is everything else. It’s cast, set, lighting and projection help make this show into something that should be seen to be fully appreciated as it’s not often that we get to see such cinematic quality on the stage.

Runs until 24 February 2018 | Image: Manuel Harlan


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The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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