The current touring production of Sunset Boulevard wowed its opening night audience at the New Wimbledon Theatre on Tuesday 10 April 2018. The entire audience leapt to their feet for Ria Jones, who portrays and commits to the emotionally testing role of Norma Desmond, an out of work actress attempting to get back into the limelight.
Often when I am asked to review a performance I know something about the show or have a general idea about the book or score. However when I was asked to review the current Sunset Boulevard tour, I purposefully didn’t want to research the show nor have any preconceptions beforehand. I wanted to experience the show with fresh eyes. All I knew was that the leading lady Ria Jones, was the understudy for Glenn Close in the West End who impressed audiences with a handful of performances due to illness with Ms Close.
Sunset Boulevard is a show based upon the glitz of Hollywood, set in the late 1940s/early 1950s. We follow struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis (Danny Mac), who after being chased by debt collectors, stumbles across a dark and mysterious mansion, owned by Norma Desmond. She hands over a script to Gillis and asks him for his own opinion, which in turn leads to them going through a re-write of the script. Subsequently we see Joe move in with Norma and their relationship begins and develops from here.
The set, a Hollywood film stage was simplistic yet fitted the tone and storyline of the show. Two flats were used throughout as stage doors and were used for various projections, including a projection screen at the rear of the stage, also used throughout both Acts. Disappointingly the production appeared to rely on the regular use of projection and I felt this wasn’t needed nor necessary. It often distracted from the emotional scenes and led my eye elsewhere. I also struggled to understand why when reaching the top of the grand staircase, they were transported, within full view of the audience, to the opposite side of the stage to exit. When transitioning to the next scene, the audience were already able to see the actors beforehand and this spoiled their entrance or exit and felt disjointed to the performance.
I saw the score had been written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and expected to be wowed, as with most of his other hit musicals I have left impressed with songs that are instantly memorable. However I was left disappointed by the score. Whilst several musical numbers are famous in their own right, I couldn’t recall many songs afterwards and felt it needed more in order for the songs to be ingrained on the audience.
I was left in awe of Adam Pearce, who plays Norma’s butler, Max. His vocal ability and range was astonishing! In one particular song the audience hear his entire range and with his emotional and moving performance, the audience remained in total silence until his last note and then launched into a mighty applause. Extremely well deserved.
Danny Mac as Joe Gillis was enjoyable to watch. He has both a strong acting talent and vocal ability. However I did pick up several times that his diction and pronunciation of words in his American accent did not always flow.
Now to our leading lady – Ria Jones. WOW. WOW. WOW.
From the moment the audience meets her we are taken on an emotional rollercoaster and journey which sees her live and breathe every part of the character. Ria deserved every single applause she received from her opening number right through to her breathtaking and tear jerking “As If We Never Said Goodbye”, the hairs on my neck stood on end! Ria adds much depth to the role and her presence throughout the entire production was felt and noticed. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
Sunset Boulevard is a production that has a great cast and production team that works well. It received an extremely well deserved standing ovation at the curtain call and Ria appeared to be moved by this. It’s a show that is presented well but with some aspects somewhat overused or not entirely seamless, I felt it needed some adaptation to make it a five star performance.