Andrew Lloyd Webber’s much loved musical Sunset Boulevard is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 2nd December.
This is a production which combines powerful, melodramatic music with visually intense staging which convincingly recreates the Paramount movie studios of the late 1940s. The action moves seamlessly between locations as the actors weave between cameras, lights, crew and set.
There are stunning lighting changes that transform the colourless background into a full technicolour movie set. But amongst the frantic movement and impressively complex staging is a tragic story of a faded star whose life is decaying as she refuses to accept reality.
The story begins with impoverished screen writer, Joe Gillis (Danny Mac), arriving at Paramount Studios looking for work and on the run from debt collectors. He fails to convince a Producer to take his script but meets Betty Schaefer (Molly Lynch), a script editor who suggests they collaborate to rework one of his earlier screenplays. He’s then tracked down by debt collectors and as he escapes he stumbles into a dilapidated mansion on Sunset Boulevard and meets former silent-screen goddess, Norma Desmond (Ria Jones).
Persuaded to work on Norma’s ‘masterpiece’, a film script that she believes will put her back in front of the cameras, he is seduced by her and her luxurious life-style. Joe becomes entrapped in a claustrophobic world until his love for another woman leads him to try and break free with dramatic consequences.
Sunset Boulevard has been hailed as one of the all-time great musicals, having won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical, based on Billy Wilder’s legendary film. There are plenty of well known songs performed by a full orchestra including the title number Sunset Boulevard, With One Look, As If We Never Said Goodbye, The Greatest Star Of All and The Perfect Year.
This show, perhaps more than any other, hangs on the performance of the leading lady and Ria Jones in this production is spectacular. It’s easy to see why her West End debut as the understudy for Glenn Close received a standing ovation. She manages to really make the character make sense with an absolutely convincing performance, incredible vocal performance on some truly show-stopping numbers and makes the show’s iconic lines her own – like the famous moment when she says “and now, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up”.
Danny Mac’s portrayal of Joe is suave and confident. As a Strictly finalist, you’d expect his dancing to be phenomenal, although he doesnt get much of an opportunity to show off his moves in this show. He manages to convey the claustrophobic frustration of his character as he is torn between his sympathy for Norma and his love for Betty.
This was one of the most expensive shows to stage on the West End, initially losing money due to its extensive running costs and it really is a feast for all the senses.
This is a great night out which, despite the melancholy plot is a very entertaining and enjoyable show.