Paul Johnson | 11 Apr 2018 11:51am
Photos: Manuel Harlan
This latest revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical version of Billy Wilder’s 1950 multi-Oscar-nominated film was warmly received on its opening night at the New Wimbledon Theatre.
As the film was an homage to a certain kind of film, the musical is staged – ingeniously – as if it were precisely that kind of film. Colin Richmond’s inventive design uses backcloths that make no pretence of being backcloths and what passed for special effects in the early years of cinema to convey slick changes of scene. There is a staircase – as there often is in musicals – and this too serves more than one purpose, most effectively when it is re-structured for the celebrated duet Too Much in Love to Care, the standout number in this production. Nonetheless there are moments when the conceit doesn’t quite work because it necessitates some action to happen offstage, no more so than in the climax, which is a little clumsy.
Lloyd Webber’s music often features familiar refrains and that is the case with Sunset Boulevard where, as well as some classical motifs and hints of John Barry, there are unmistakeable traces of a chart-topping song from the seventies. But this is churlish, Lloyd Webber’s music is brilliantly crafted, with cinematic big band numbers, sky-scraping tunes for Norma Desmond and lively rhythms for the diner-set dance-numbers with out-of-work writers and actors.
Ria Jones plays Norma Desmond, the deluded and eventually demented star of silent films, and her singing fills the enormous theatre; but while she extracts every ounce of humour from her role, Jones’ Norma is more comic than tragic and there are times when her larger-than-life performance gets a little too close to pantomime. She is well partnered by a superb Danny Mac who provides the engine for the story. As Joe Gillis, the cleanest cut – and buffest – scriptwriter you will ever see, Mac more than repays the belief of everyone who said he should perform in musical theatre full-time after seeing him in Strictly Come Dancing in 2016 and, recollecting his electrifying samba with Oti Mabuse, there is a crowd-pleasing shirtless scene for his many fans of both sexes.
Giving an outstanding performance, Adam Pearce plays Max, the butler with a secret. Pearce sings beautifully and has tremendous range and presence, and he conveys perfectly the tragedy of his character and Norma’s. The last of the central quartet is made up by Molly Lynch who gives Pearce a run for his money with her acting and singing.
While Sunset Boulevard is no Phantom or Evita, this is a controlled, assured production of a classic musical.
Danny Mac ‘Joe Gillis’, Ria Jones ‘Norma Desmond’ and Adam Pearce ‘Max Von Meyerling’. Photo: Manuel Harlan
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- : 09/04/2018