Sunset Boulevard always seems like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s forgotten lovechild.
Despite the incredible score, solid writing and iconic characters, it’s usually relegated to musical theatre’s B-list.
It seems nothing has changed. In a world where the likes of Cats and other inferior shows will sell out months in advance, there are many empty seats in the Marlowe Theatre for this performance.
It’s their loss. This production of Sunset Boulevard deserves to be seen.
The musical is based on Billy Wilder’s 1950 movie which tells the story of Norma Desmond, a movie star in the age of silent films. Norma was ousted from the movie business by the talkies and she now lives as a virtual recluse in her once spectacular mansion on Sunset Boulevard. Things start to spiral when she meets a down-on-his-luck screenwriter, Joe Gillis, who is willing to take her money to work on a script Norma thinks will propel her back to superstardom.
Joe Gillis is played by Danny Mac, who is a big deal if you watch Strictly Come Dancing or Hollyoaks. That’s unfair, because Danny Mac deserves to be an even bigger deal for his stage work.
Casting ex-Strictly contestants is now a common tactic in theatreland. It gets bums on seats and whether the actor can actually carry a show is secondary.
It’s refreshing to say that’s not the case with Danny Mac. He has a rich theatrical background that predates his TV work, and he owns the stage throughout.
His singing is faultless and in any other production he’d be the main focus of post-show conversation.
But not here, because he shares the stage with Ria Jones.
Her Norma Desmond is tragic and deluded yet still alluring, showing flashes of the glamour and charisma that made her a star. With One Look is the absolute stand-out moment of the whole musical. If you’re only familiar with Glenn Close’s rendition of With One Look, *this* is how the song is meant to be sung. Ria Jones can handle notes in a way Close could only dream of.
Norma Desmond is a tempting role to ham up, but Ria Jones stays on the right side of eccentricity, ensuring the faded star remains a sympathetic character.
Onstage she is accompanied by her man-servant Max, played by a brooding Adam Pearce. Pearce provides one of the show’s other stand-out vocal performances, a very difficult to sing The Greatest Star of All, in which he swoops from a deep, rich bass way up into a flawless falsetto.
All these performances are elevated further by Colin Richmond’s set design which brings vintage Hollywood to life, moving seamlessly from the faded splendour of Norma’s mansion (complete with grand staircase) to the imposing gates of Paramount Studio.
Richmond and director Nikolai Foster also make use of projection, which is used effectively across a variety of textures, giving it a more grubby, organic feel. Most of the time it works wonderfully, however some of the footage could do with being reshot, as it’s too melodramatic and draws unkind attention away from the fabulous performances onstage.
This is a show that truly deserves a full house.