Andrew Lloyd Webber’s adaptation of Billy Wilder’s 1951 film Sunset Boulevard is bursting with the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and the intense drama surrounding faded movie star Norma Desmond’s life.
Set in 1940, screenwriter Joe Gillis is struggling to get his lucky break when one evening he stumbles across the home of Norma Desmond, a huge Hollywood star of silent movies that didn’t make it in the new film industry and became a recluse inside her mansion. Pining over her previous career and dependent on her previous fame and fortune, Norma dreams of making her huge comeback. After spending years writing her screenplay, starring herself of course, she recruits Joe to help her finish it. However, their working relationship spirals out of control as Norma becomes obsessive over Joe and threatens suicide if he leaves her.
High scale drama pushes the narrative along with powerful musical numbers to enhance the melodrama. Ria Jones takes on the role of the extravagant and narcissistic Norma Desmond. Jones gives a remarkable performance as the silent movie star, and her commitment to the role is masterly. Fusing her performance with vigor, she performs the huge Webber songs such as As If We Never Said Goodbye. Commanding the audience with her every word, her stage presence is entirely powerful and worth the epic standing ovation she received.
Opposite her in the role of young handsome aspiring screenwriter Joe is Danny Mac, who provides a stellar performance. It’s a gritty role that Mac manages to totally consume, he plays the light and dark sides of the character superbly, showcasing his versatility as an actor. He manages to blow the audience away with his rendition of Sunset Boulevard opening the second act, his vocals are sharp and his characterisation is gripping. The emotion is at an all-time high, and his chemistry with Jones is entirely engaging.
Playing the protective and demanding butler Mac, Adam Pearce is fierce with his devotion to Norma as he shelters her fragile vulnerability. His character development throughout the show is compelling as his aggression towards Joe’s actions grows stronger, and of course, his rich vocals are astounding. Molly Lynch plays Joe’s other love interest Betty Schaefer and she brings a sweet innocence to the show, lifting the dark themes of the musical with her charming persona.
Heightening the extraordinary performances are the production values. Video and Projection Designer Douglas O’Connell brings the era to life through the eery and sinister projections of silent movies, he manages to completely encapsulate the tone of each scene, making the musical feel as if it is quite literally in a film.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic production of Sunset Boulevard pulls out all the stops to create a modernised piece of striking musical theatre about manic obsession, lust and heightened drama.
On at the Palace Theatre in Manchester until the 4th of November before continuing on tour around the UK, tickets can be found here.