Based on Billy Wilder’s acclaimed 1950 film of the same title, Sunset Boulevard features a book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The story focuses on has-been star Norma Desmond, who has been kept under the illusion that she is “the greatest star” decades after her career has ended. When Joe Gillis, a young screenwriter, stumbles upon her mansion, he sees his opportunity to manipulate the out-of-touch actress for money, and she sees an opportunity to return to the big screen.
First of all, I have to note that the production of Sunset Boulevard transformed the Marlowe Theatre stage and made it look the best I have ever seen. All of this can be credited to the phenomenal lighting design of Ben Cracknell, the video and projection designs by Douglas O’Connell, and the superb stage design by Colin Richmond. Tied together, this trio creates a breathtaking space which turns the Canterbury theatre into Hollywood. The terrific 16 piece orchestra directed by Adrian Kirk is another stand-out showstopper for this musical. Lloyd Webber’s score comes to life and sounds like it could have been a recording, it was utterly fabulous.
The story and direction, however, fell short in my opinion. The plot of Sunset Boulevard is meant to focus on the character’s obsessive and turbulent relationships, however, Nikolai Foster’s direction seems to miss this point. Instead, the production skimmed over these pivotal moments and placed its emphasis on the music. All the characters, barring Norma Desmond and her butler and confidante Max, appeared to stay on one level throughout the performance, instead of growing and developing; this made the declarations of love and romance jarring and surprising which didn’t seem to fit with the plot.
Ria Jones’ Norma Desmond was a brilliant portrayal of the star’s decline into madness, although vocally she seemed to be suffering on the night. Joe Gillis is played by Strictly Come Dancing favourite Danny Mac, whose charm and charisma oozes throughout the performance. Molly Lynch is sweet and innocent as budding writer and alternate love interest, Betty Shaefer. Although the standout performance comes from Adam Pearce as Max. Pearce commands the stage every time he sets foot on it, and as the story progresses, his woeful tale comes to fruition – and these were the only moments I was truly captivated throughout the performance.
Sunset Boulevard is a wonderful contribution to sound and design, however the direction of the story just did not sit right in my opinion. The emphasis on the relationships was lost and therefore the already reaching story was just not believable, I didn’t see any motivation for any of the actions on stage. Nevertheless, Sunset Boulevard is visually stunning and Jones’ rendition of ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’ was poignant and beautiful.
With one last day at the Marlowe Theatre, Sunset Boulevard concludes its UK Tour in Sheffield.