Andrew Lloyd Webber
New Victoria Theatre, Woking
My first musical of 2018 and the excellent team behind Sunset Boulevard has set the bar high.
Based on Billy Wilder’s film with the same name, Sunset Boulevard is the tale of Norma Desmond, a has-been movie star who wants a come back, and the younger writer she coerces into helping with her delusions. This is melodrama at it’s finest, and this new musical cast certainly bring these heightened emotions to the stage.
Sunset Boulevard was first seen on stage over 25 years ago and, after a few tweaks and trims, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical won a handful of Toni Awards. It’s not his best musical—largely because there’s just not enough musical material. There are really only five distinct numbers in the show and the other songs recycle the same thematic material.
This does have the advantage of the tunes being really catchy. Another lovely surprise is the excellent live orchestra—the 16 players in the pit conducted by Adrian Kirk produce a rousing sound. It is rare to find more than a few keys players imitating all of the other instruments, so this lavish ensemble is a rare treat.
This revival brings back Ria Jones—the very first lady to ever play Norma Desmond. Working with Lloyd Webber aged just 24, Jones performed in the first Sunset Boulevard workshops in 1991 at the Sydmonton Festival. Far too young at that point to play an ageing star, it seems things have come full circle.
In 2016, Jones was understudy for for Glenn Close at the London Coliseum and a last minute step in for the Hollywood star proved she could also be a big hit with the fans. Now officially the leading lady in the touring show, Jones captures the ageing star excellently and performs with aplomb. Although vocally the weakest in this strong cast, this matches her ‘past it’ character and certainly reflects no diminution of emotion.
Dougie Carter (Joe Gillis) is fantastic—he makes this big sing look easy and has the swagger of this young writer on the make down to a tee. Unfortunately he is just too young—and the references in the script to Gillis’s jaded attitude ring false. Hopefully, in another 10 years, we’ll get to see Carter back in the role and this time it will be a perfect fit.
Adam Pearce also delivers a knockout performance—the role demands a big vocal range, and he proves he has the control and change of tone to come across as booming butler or float in a sweet, reminiscent falsetto. Molly Lynch also deserves mention, creating a vivacious and driven Betty Schaefer.
Despite the incongruities in age with some of the casting, there was no compromise with performance. Crystal clear diction teamed with tight ensemble work from the chorus keeps the show buzzing.
All of this is to a backdrop of splendid costumes and a whirlwind of set changes. The motor car scenes are a particular highlight. Norma Desmond drips with sequins and fur and not one of Colin Richmond’s (Designer) costumes disappoints.
This is a big budget show with high production values and the results are worth it. Waves of powerful playing from the pit, matched by energetic ensemble performances with a backdrop of beautifully designed sets and costumes, makes Sunset Boulevard a spectacular night out.
Reviewer: Louise Lewis