Sunset Boulevard – Review – Bradford Alhambra
By Sandra Callard, February 2018
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.
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.
“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.
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.