Sunset Boulevard – Review – Bradford Alhambra

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Sunset Boulevard – Review

Bradford Alhambra, February 2018

by Sandra Callard

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s dramatic operetta Sunset Boulevard is set in the 1950s in Hollywood, but harks back to the long ago days of silent movies, when many of the film icons of the era could not make the transition into talking pictures.

Actors, directors and producers lost their careers if they could not adapt to the new talking movies, and Sunset Boulevard is the story of just one of those actresses. Norma Desmond is a flamboyant and psychotic character, who holds the stage like a magnet whenever she appears, and must be a joy for any actor to perform.

sunset boulevard review bradford alhambra february 2018 cast

“Moving performance”

Ria Jones plays Norma Desmond, and attacks the part with style and panache, her face hidden under layers of old movie-style make-up, her hair mostly unseen under fantastic turbans, and her shape hidden under layers of elaborate cloaks and gowns. She is a cipher now, but is convinced she is destined to play Salome shortly in a glorious come-back. She is faded, sad and pathetic, but is adored by her ex-husband, Max Von Meyerling, who acts now as her willing servant.

Max is played brilliantly by Adam Pearce, who conveys his sadness and love for this diminished woman in a wonderfully moving performance. His deep baritone is particularly effective as he sings of her glory days.

Danny Mac is sharp and convincing as struggling script-writer Joe Gillis, who Norma falls in love with. Joe uses Norma to earn money by writing her script for ‘Salome’, which he knows will never be made. Mac is good in the role, as he slowly makes the transition from good guy to scheming and selfish operator, as the opportunity arises when Norma falls in love with him.

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“Lifts the heart”

The story of Sunset Boulevard goes back many years. The 1950 film was a sensation, a melodramatic telling of a tragic story, and its star, Gloria Swanson has ever been the epitome of Norma Desmond. But this musical version alters the focus slightly and makes Norma slightly more human and understandable. The drama is diminished somewhat in the welter of songs, which are not Lloyd-Webber’s most memorable, but the visual action is accentuated, and in parts quite beautiful.

Ria Jones can certainly sing, but she has a slightly disconcerting way of dropping the singing of certain words and speaking them instead. Novel, admittedly, but it adds nothing to the songs. The show is packed with numbers which are mostly forgettable, but Jones’s singing of the show’s best-known song, ‘With One Look’ is flawless, and does its job of lifting the heart, loving the singer, and empathising with the character.

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“Visually stunning”

Stage sets are terrific, in particular the car, or rather the half a car, which careers around the stage and does a brilliant job of speeding through the streets of Hollywood. All the stage settings are good and nicely evocative of the 1950s, as are the costumes. Women’s clothes then were always elegant, sweeping and feminine, and men mostly wore suits, and the players so accurately portray this in their dress, that you are immediately swept back to those times.

This is a good professional show, well-presented and visually stunning. Good solid performances from everybody and a superb supporting cast make for an enjoyable theatre experience.

2 Comments on "Sunset Boulevard – Review – Bradford Alhambra"

  1. Steve Poole February 11, 2018 at 1:25 PM · Reply

    I agree with every word Fiona says and as for Sandra Callard’s comment that the show is packed with unforgettable songs I strongly disagree. In my opinion Sunset Boulevard is one of Lloyd Webber’s best.

  2. Fiona Jenner February 7, 2018 at 9:53 AM · Reply

    Having read the review by Sandra Callard, I would like to make the following points. I first encountered Miss Ria Jones when she was the alternate for Glenn Close at the London Coliseum and I knew her portrayal of Norma Desmond was one that would be remembered for years to come. Not only has Ria Jones a phenomenal voice but she can act ‘with one look’. Interestingly, Ria Jones was the first person to sing Andrew Lloyd Weber’s score in 1991 so she knows and understands the music well. The part of Norma Desmond is a complex one to play; she is partly living in the past longing for the the ‘people in the dark’ to worship her very being and the other side of her is a very sad, lonely abandoned lady who I believe has an awareness, but refuses to accept her situation. I have seen a few actors play the part and Ria Jones is the only actor who captured the light and shade of Norma. Many play the manic side of the character but fail to capture the deeper emptiness; Ria Jones gives the audience both.
    As Sandra Callard says in her opening sentence, Sunset Boulevard is an operetta. It is very common for some of the libretto of an operetta to be spoken rather than sung and Ria Jones does this to perfection. I’d suggest that by ‘speaking’ some of the words, Ria Jones portrays the inner turmoil of Norma’s mind – at these times, she is not singing to her audience so much as talking to herself . Therefore, the ‘speaking’ of words is neither novel or disconcerting; it is a recognised method in operetta and its correct use adds to a performance.
    This current tour of Sunset Boulevard has been greeted with positive acclaim in every town and city it has visited. It is not often that the provinces are treated to a production which has a full orchestra. The paying public are well aware that they are watching a superb piece of musical theatre with a first class cast. I always think the quality of a production is about the team work of everone involved and there is no doubt that everyone has made this tour a spectacular success.

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