Reviewed by Charly Ralph
22nd January 2017
With book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard is the award winning musical that tells the tragic story of Norma Desmond. From Hollywood starlet to lonely recluse, Sunset Boulevard reveals what became of silent movie star Norma Desmond after the arrival of the ‘talkies’.
Following her West End success as a standby to Glenn Close, Ria Jones reprises the role of Norma Desmond for the UK tour. Jones has a striking stage presence and performs the iconic ‘With One Look’ and ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’ with gusto – to rapturous applause from the audience. However, watching the show for the first time, I missed a sense of vulnerability in Norma’s character that could have provided more depth to the dialogue in between the power ballad performances.
When introduced to Norma’s Hollywood mansion, it’s clear that Set and Costume Designer Colin Richmond has sought inspiration from the 1920’s, with the set emulating an almost Gatsby feel. However, this definitive nod to a classic may have been to the detriment of the production’s leading man.
Dougie Carter’s Joe Gillis takes on the role of narrator throughout the show, similar to Fitzgerald’s use of a narrator point of view. Although this works well, leading the audience through the story, a lack of energy makes it increasingly difficult to distinguish between when Joe is present in the action and when he is retelling it for the benefit of the audience, especially in the first act.
Carter, however, has a strong voice, providing the audience with a heartfelt rendition of ‘Sunset Boulevard’ at the start of the second act – and his duet ‘Too Much In Love To Care’ with Molly Lynch was for me, a show highlight.
Lynch gave a standout performance as Betty Schaefer, full of optimism and charm. The young Hollywood script reader embodies the hope of those working in the film industry who still believe all their dreams will come true. In complete contrast to Gillis, who is quickly filled with cynicism and bitterness, Schaefer is a welcome injection of whimsical energy on stage.
Another standout vocal performance was provided by Adam Pearce as the unnerving butler character Max. With an impressive vocal range, Pearce stunned the audience with a beautiful performance of ‘The Greatest Star Of All’.
The set was extensive and the grand staircase brought an element of Hollywood glamour to the stage, but sadly it suffered from a few clunky changes. There were also moments of darkness on stage, with performers left waiting for a spotlight, however this could be put down to first night technical cliches that will be rectified throughout the run.
For me, the star of Sunset Boulevard is the music. In this production, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score is brought to life by Musical Director Adrian Kirk – and his band do not disappoint. The music filled the theatre beautifully, without overpowering the cast.
This UK tour of Sunset Boulevard is filled with powerful, emotive songs, complemented by a strong vocal performance. Experience it now at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking until Saturday 27th January.