Sunset Boulevard, New Wimbledon Theatre

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.

SUNSET BOULEVARD. Danny Mac 'Joe Gillis'. Photo Manuel Harlan_preview

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.

To catch the show whilst it plays at the New Wimbledon Theatre, please visit their website or visit the Sunset Boulevard website for further details.

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Crazy For You – New Wimbledon Theatre

Crazy For You is currently playing at the New Wimbledon Theatre from 6th – 10th March. This highly acclaimed musical has received great reviews for both the high energy of performances throughout and the superbly talented actor-musician cast.

Tom Chambers of ‘Strictly’ fame plays the role of Bobby Child, a New York dancer whose wealthy family have great expectations for him. The storyline sees us heading to Deadrock, Nevada where he is tasked with closing a failing theatre. He meets Polly, played by Charlotte Wakefield, a passionate and head strong daughter of the theatres owner and they want to put on a show to stop the theatre from closing.

3. CRAZY FOR YOU. Tom Chambers 'Bobby' and Company. Richard Davenport.

We follow Bobby and Polly as they get to work, which result in their feelings for one another, mistaken identities and some unexpected fights along the way! Having seen several actor-musician productions before, I have always enjoyed seeing the cast being involved with every aspect on the show. However the Crazy For You cast take this to a new level – the majority of the cast play numerous instruments throughout the show, including choreography with their instruments – great work!

If you enjoy shows with high energy, a humourous love interest and lots of comedy – this is the show for you. From my observations from the audience, the show attracts both the younger and older generations. The show features plenty of hits including ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me’, ‘Embraceable You’ and ‘I Got Rhythm’. Both generations enjoyed the comedic timing throughout which includes many one-liners and provided us lots of laughs throughout.

6. CRAZY FOR YOU. Tom Chambers 'Bobby' and Charlotte Wakefield 'Polly' and Company. Photo Richard Davenport.

Claire Sweeney also stars in the show as Irene, Bobby’s fiancé and whilst her stage time is somewhat limited, her presence was always suitably felt on stage and she was incredibly convincing in her solo of ‘Naughty Baby’.

From my own perspective I found Tom Chambers a little too ‘clean’ at times and would have preferred a grittier performance for the character of Bobby. His dancing was good, albeit I don’t consider the tap dancing has come naturally to him despite his previous work including Strictly Come Dancing and Top Hat.

It’s a fabulous show which deserves its continued success and reviews it receives. The show plays at the New Wimbledon Theatre until 10th March before continuing with the remainder of its UK tour. Further information about the show can be found here.

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Young Frankenstein – Garrick Theatre, London

Young Frankenstein follows the smash hit musical, The Producers which I understand was not so well received by Broadway audiences. However Mel Brooks has rejuvenated and refreshed this musical which is a roaring success with West End audiences and will have your sides splitting from the hilarity and jokes this musical brings.

The plot of the show is very much the same as the 1974 film, Fronkensteen returns to Transylvania in the old castle where he takes up his grandfathers hated hobby of reviving corpses with electricity. Sounds odd – but it works. The musical itself starts in the science lab where he is trying everything in which to escape the legacy left by his grandfather. However before he knows it he is back at his grandfathers estate to create his very own monster.

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Hadley Fraser forms an almighty double act with his servant Igor, played by Cory English with a hump that just will not stay put. Summer Strallen is the blonde bombshell Inga, a lab assistant whose frontal assets are evoked in Fronkensteen’s line when referring to the medieval door to the castle as ‘What knockers’! Strallen welcomes audiences by rolling abound in a hay car pulled by two stage dobbins which had the audience won over in seconds.

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Lesley Joseph plays the mysterious housekeeper Frau Blucher whose name alone causes the horses to whine at the very mention of her name. Joseph sings ‘He vas my boyfriend’ which a confessional passion and one which shows another side to this talented actress who has graced both the stage and screen. Understudy Emily Squibb was on for Elizabeth who really strengthened the theatrical talent on stage with stunning vocal performances throughout and in my favourite of her performances – a side splitting rendition of ‘Tits’. Yep – that’s right, Tits.

The show is full of humour throughout from the first number until curtain call. It isn’t particularly clever but it is pure silliness throughout and which transports the audience to disconnect from reality and enjoy the show for exactly what it is. Expect many innuendos and parades and there delighted us throughout. The often cheesy choreography was there to further add to the horror of the monster and the funny bone tickling nature of this show!

The staging of the show including the set and lighting design serve to create an exciting atmosphere and compliments the performances of the entire cast throughout the production. With pyrotechnics and passageways there was never a moment when the show felt dull – it packed a punch for the right reasons.

Young Frankenstein is a musical that allows the audience to enjoy the show and simply just laugh at what it is. It isn’t serious but it knows it is good and is often crude – but works…perfectly.

Well done all and I look forward to watching it again very soon. Further information including how to book tickets can be found here.

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Les Misérables – Queens Theatre, London

Les Misérables has to be one of the most recognised musicals the West End has and for a show that has been playing for more than 30 years, I was pleased to see a full audience on a Tuesday evening. The production itself shows no signs of slowing down and looks to continue for many more years with a huge fanbase following!

With the hugely successful film adaptation making the story familiar to many of us, I am not at all surprised the show continues to draw in big crowds and continues to play in many countries across the globe.

Much of the energy for this show comes from the delivery by the current cast. Killian Donnelly plays John Valjean who brings a powerful yet touching character. ‘Bring Him Home’ resulted in a number of audience members crying from Killians perfect vocals for this song.

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I had wanted to see this production for a number of years and it is clear to see why it continues to attract a large audience. However I felt that the production felt rushed during the majority of Act 1, this heightened even more so by the revolve continually being used.  At times I found it difficult to focus on a particular cast member as the set and cast were continually moving. Having watching the filmed I had a good understanding of the show already, however if it hadn’t been for me seeing the film I believe I would have struggled to follow the storyline.

The set itself is simplistic yet I was pleasantly surprised with the clever use of set for the barricade. I particularly enjoyed the slow motion sequences which whilst simple, it was extremely effective and touching to the store,  getting across to the audience the emotion of the production.

The continued success of this shows comes from its famous score and a number of songs which are known, even by those whom may have not seen much musical theatre or have knowledge of Les Miserables. The live orchestra for this production complemented the score perfectly although I found the drums to sound out of place with the rest of the music.

The show comes across as a well run production however because I felt the performance was compromised because of the rushed pace, speed and over use of the revolve and this made me enjoyment of the performance decrease as I didn’t feel the audience could connect emotionally with the story.

3-stars

Follies, National Theatre – London

It’s been quite some time since I last visited the theatre, so it was an absolute treat for me to watch Follies last Friday, which currently plays at The National Theatre on London’s Southbank.

Being the theatrical type, it is hard not to have already heard of follies over the years as it features some extremely stagey musical numbers which even those who don’t enjoy or get to watch much musical theatre would have heard before.

For those who are unfamiliar with Follies, let’s get ourselves acquainted…

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It shares the story of showgirls from Weismann’s Follies (based on Ziegfield’s), who attend a reunion held in the crumbling theatre where they once danced in front of the spotlights to packed out audiences. Two unhappy couples Buddy (Peter Forbes) and Sally (Imelda Staunton) and Ben (Philip Quast) and Phyllis (Jane Dee) all reconnect that night. We find out Sally was in love with Ben then and still is. As they recall and share their memories from years gone by, the past may just come back to haunt them.

They perform their old numbers and with epic performances from Di Botcher’s Broadway Baby, Tracie Bennett’s I’m Still Here and saving the best until last, Imelda Staunton’s Losing My Mind – its a production to remember with a very worthy stand in ovation at the curtain call.

Often shows consider not having an interval as they may feel it will break the atmosphere and tension that has built throughout the production. Follies is precisely one of the shows that doesn’t have an interval! It had myself and my husband discussing why they had chosen this and whether this would have resulted in a lot of people heading for the loos half way through. However, I barely noticed anyone leaving their seats as the audience were so focussed on the show.

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The Follies set has been well thought out and depicts a crumbling theatre perfectly and with atmospheric lighting it gives the perfect ‘worn’ effect. The performance is staged upon a revolve that quite literally doesn’t stop revolving for the first 20 – 30 minutes of the show, which at first I found a little off putting. However once I managed to focus on who was singing or going through their dialogue, I was able to keep up.  If anything, the revolve could have been slowed down or to refrain from it continually spinning round!

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With a cast of 37 and and an orchestra of 21 – this production gives everything – and more which is why I have given a 5 star rating. It was once of the most spectacular musical theatre experiences I have had and worthy of the stand in ovation at the curtain call! There will soon be a live broadcast to cinemas, which I hope to get to see!

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