reviewed at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend on 29 January
This tour of Nikolai Foster’s Curve production of what is arguably the darkest of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals has the advantage of a script and lyrics from Don Black and Christopher Hampton which combine the important merits of fitting the characters as well as the story and its situations.
It is based on the 1950 Billy Wilder film about a former star of the silent screen who cannot come to terms with an industry where the visual element shares – and often yields – importance with spoken dialogue. Ria Jones gives a convincing performance as Norma Desmond, mewed up with her memories in the decaying splendour of her mansion on Sunset Boulevard like Dickens’ Miss Havisham.
Jones has the stage presence as well as the vocal strength to make us understand why Norma as turned in (and on) herself. Her equally formidable co-stars are Adam Pearce as Max von Meyerling, the factotum who we learn is so much more, and Danny Mac as the penniless hack script-writer who lets himself be sucked into their twilight world.
Around these three a 12-strong ensemble peoples the stage with characters as colourful as the studio world they inhabit at so many levels. Molly Lynch has the voice and personality for Betty, the girl who wants to write screenplays and who offers Joe a possible route back into the studios.
Adrian Kirk conducts a 12-person orchestra, reinforcing this as something much nearer to one of those diva-led 19th century operas which (with the right cast and production) still command our attention. The design team – Colin Richmond (set and costumes), Ben Cracknell (lighting) and Douglas O’Connell (video and projection) – swirl us through the different locations with the aid of staircases and the shimmer rather than the concrete of furnishings.
“In my end is my beginning” is a motto attributed to Mary Queen of Scots. This bitter-sweet tragedy has the same trajectory. Unlike so many straight films given the staged musical treatment, this one works from its first notes through a succession of arias and choral set pieces to its savage climax. What’ more, the audience knows it.
Four and a half-star rating.
Sunset Boulevard runs at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend until 3 February wth matinées on 31 January and 3 February. I also plays at the Regent Theatre, Ipswich between 5 and 10 March.