Book & Lyrics: Don Black & Christopher Hampton
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Director: Nikolai Foster
Reviewer: Tate James
“The address is 10086 Sunset Boulevard”
When starving writer, Joe Gillis, pulled his car into the driveway of a forgotten mansion on Sunset Boulevard, he had no idea he would end up tangled in the demise of a former silent movie star. Billy Wilder’s haunting black and white 1950 movie boasted a stellar cast, impressive sets and a luxuriously dramatic score, and this latest production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical adaptation can do the same.
Our narrator and leading man for the evening is Danny Mac, as Joe Gillis, guiding us down the boulevards of Los Angeles and through Lloyd Webber’s sumptuous songs and lusciously expressive musical interludes. Mac delivers a perfect Joe: cool and casual, arrogant and unapologetic, gorgeous yet we’re not sure if we actually like him. His boyish nonchalance balances exquisitely with Adam Pearce’s manly responsibility as Max, the butler who protects his mistress from the realisation that her star has burnt out. Pearce’s voice is effortless with an impressive range, and his devotion to the lady of the house is tangible.
Norma Desmond is arguably the greatest star of all: first created by a titan of the silver screen, Gloria Swanson, and reimagined by some of the greatest names in theatre including Patti Lupone and Glenn Close; but it was a lesser known star who originated the role when Andrew Lloyd Webber first premiered excerpts of Sunset at his own Sydmonton Festival.
Twenty-six years after being the first to appear in the role, Ria Jones famously stepped out as Norma to great acclaim whilst Glenn Close was indisposed during the recent London Coliseum semi-staged production, and it is only fair that the rest of the UK get to witness her commanding portrayal of the faded star of yesteryear. She is grand and imposing as she dominates all around her, with accentuated gesture and exaggerated articulation. Her life governed by her love of the silent movie, Jones finds every moment of joy in the grandiose and is raw and vulnerable whenever her illusions appear just that. Only her final scene could have been more manic as she built up to the iconic line “And now, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my closeup”
In Nikolai Foster’s hands, the sometimes laboured book hurtles along at pace, aided by the inventive mastery of Colin Richmond’s set design and Douglas O’Connell’s video and projections, which are perfectly pitched in a show about the movie industry. Adrian Kirk’s orchestra masterfully play Lloyd Webber’s most evocative score since Phantom.
It may be one of Lloyd Webber’s less commercially popular musical ventures, and it is most definitely overshadowed by massive advertisements for other shows outside this particular theatre, but this is one musical treat that needs to be seen while it is here! The massive running costs of such a glamorous and excessive piece don’t allow this show to travel often, and certainly not at such a high standard as this mounting. So, while you have the chance, allow Sunset Boulevard to take you back to the glamour of Hollywood’s Golden Age. “Everyone needs new ways to dream”
Runs until Saturday 4th November 2017 | Image: Manuel Harlan