Review: "Sunset Boulevard will transport you to another world"
Based on the 1950 film by Billy Wilder, Sunset Boulevard is a dramatic musical production directed by Nikolai Foster with lyrics and script co-written by Don Black and Christopher Hampton and music created by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The production has been said to resemble a tragic opera due to its melodrama and explores youthful glamour, ageing decay and pathos with final insanity and violent death creating a weighty storyline.
Ria Jones (who plays Norma Desmond) sings with a beautiful and wholesome tone giving gravitas to her tragic character. Her rendition of ‘New Ways to Dream’ and ‘With one Look’ brought a tear to my eye. Danny Mac (Joe Gillis) gives a slick performance playing the young screenwriter caught up in a surreal world of madness and emotion. His dancing would remind all fans of his artistic versatility, whilst his singing received rapturous applause. Molly Lynch (Betty) gave great vibrancy to her role reflecting youth, ambition and dreams. The wider cast portrayed a vibrant world based in reality; a start contrast to the heroine. My star was Max (Adam Pearce), the faithful butler and ex-husband of Norma whose gravitas and presence were touching, whose humour made my eyes sparkle and whose vocal range was extraordinary.
The orchestra produced a magnificent and ominous sound with an overture score reminiscent of a Bond movie. Norma, descending the fine staircase in her beautiful and voluptuous robes reflecting the importance of a bygone era of glamour, was in stark contrast to the clothing of the contemporary 1950s youth reflected by the world of Joe, Betty and their entourage. Exotic dancers in colourful oriental costumes performed adding vibrancy and colour to the proceedings.
The theme of ‘Lights, camera, action’ was reflected cleverly throughout the staging of this work. The staircase, in all its guises, lent drama to the performance and provided a higher platform both literally and metaphorically. The versatility of the different stage areas created a fluid platform for amazingly quick and seamless set changes, of which there were many. The dynamics of the car scenes were cleverly constructed not only with the props themselves, but with the backdrop projections providing a fast and vibrant sense of movement which brought the whole stage alive and cleverly linked the world of film and theatre. The very rapid changes of set overall were noteworthy and amazingly skilfull.
Of particular merit was the lighting in this production, which was used to magnificent effect. A beam of horizontal red light piercing the set in the first act was not only beautiful in itself but symbolic of the violence to follow. A change in lighting transformed the opulence of the mansion to the greyness of the street in a second. Dramatic overhead spotlights bathed Norma Desmond in ethereal importance. Golden ceiling lights; opulent candlelight against the dark backdrop of the mansion; flashing light from dramatic storms and interchanging of coloured light washes heralded an atmosphere of high drama.
It was evident that this production enveloped its audience and transported it to another world. A spontaneous ‘bravo’ arose from one audience member whose emotions were obviously touched to the core. A perceptible intake of breath emanated from the theatre when Norma slapped Joe’s face; such was the tension that this scene built up. There were also many laughs and the performance was well deserving of the standing ovation it received.
“We taught the world new ways to dream” was a touching line from the character of Norma. Such was the art of the silent movie and the glamorous world of Hollywood. This production was based on the pursuit of dreams which sadly for some turned sour.
By Carol Whittaker
April 12, 2018