Sunset Boulevard – New Wimbledon Theatre Review

Published by Daniel Bennifer on April 12, 2018 1:00 pm
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This new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "masterpiece" with Ria Jones in the role of Ria Jones made for a spectular night of sheer enjoyment at the New Wimbledon Theatre.

Based on the 1950 classic feature film directed by Billy Wilder, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sensational musical Sunset Boulevard, featuring book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, made for a spectacular night at the New Wimbledon Theatre. A night of sheer enjoyment that would rival any big-name show on in the West End.

In her mansion on Sunset Boulevard, Norma Desmond, a former muse of the silent screen lives in a fantasy world all of her own. In a chance encounter, Joe Gillis, an impoverished screenwriter on the run from debt collectors, stumbles into her reclusive world. Seduced by her lavish lifestyle, the down-on-his-luck writer is persuaded to work on a script that she believes will hail her return to the screen. That is until he falls in love with another woman — an event that will have dramatic consequences for all involved in this tale of romance and obsession.

There’s something to be said about the plot, which remains as poignant today as it did when the film first debuted on the screen, that delves into the behind-the-scenes and inner workings of Hollywood itself. After all, there’s a reason why Wilder’s classic was nominated for a total of 11 Academy Awards and later deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and inducted into the U.S. Library of Congress.

Danny Mac (Joe Gillis), Ria Jones (Norma Desmond) and Adam Pearce (Max Von Mayerling) in Sunset Boulevard at the New Wimbledon Theatre.

Danny Mac (Joe Gillis), Ria Jones (Norma Desmond) and Adam Pearce (Max Von Mayerling) in Sunset Boulevard at the New Wimbledon Theatre.

It’s also an important milestone for its lead actress, Ria Jones, who was chosen by Webber to play the role of Norma during the 1991 production that was staged at the Sydmonton Festival. The production, which was not a success, saw Jones step out of the role to be replaced by a number of successors including — most notably — Glenn Close. Now, more than twenty-seven years later, Jones returns to the role she was seemingly destined for, receiving standing ovation night after night — rightly so.

Starring alongside Jones is Strictly Come Dancing finalist Danny Mac as Joe Gillis, who oozes the boyish charm the role demands with excellent prowess. It’s hard to make a dent in Jones’s tour de force performance, but the combination works wonders and is truly mesmerizing in its execution. Mac’s character, played by William Holden in Wilder’s film, also serves as the narrator of the musical, echoing back to a bygone era of film.

 

Jones returns to the role she was seemingly destined for, receiving standing ovation night after night — rightly so”

Much of the film's structure, dialogue, and film noir aesthetic are maintained, featuring showstopping tunes which string the plot together in a magnificent manner — a testament to Black and Hampton.

The supporting cast which includes Adam Pearce (Max Von Mayerling), Molly Lynch (Betty Schaefer), Dougie Carter (Artie Green), and Carl Sanderson (Cecil B. DeMille) are exquisite choices, appearing as if they almost stepped out of Wilder's pic and onto the stage in a mere heartbeat.

In particular, Pearce's performance as Norma's dutiful and pensive servant is worthy of praise, as the actor bellows out songs and words that pull the audience in - eliciting a gut-wrenching acknowledgment. Max's character is also one of a keeper of secrets, filling Gillis, and the audience, in on essential plot details.

Much of the film's structure, dialogue, and film noir aesthetic are maintained, featuring showstopping tunes which string the plot together in a magnificent manner — a testament to Black and Hampton. There's more comedy strewn throughout the musical than in Wilder's pic, but it blends in well with the source material and never feels out of place. Even the film's car chase scenes are enacted on stage to incredible success, remaining surprisingly believable in the process.

Webber's adaptation of the film, which we'd recommend viewing either before or after the musical itself, is a hit-per-minute spectacular that is packed with show-stopping songs including "With One Look", "The Greatest Star Of All", "New Ways To Dream", and of course "Sunset Boulevard". The addition of the songs adds an entirely new layer to Wilder's feature, breathing life into an incredible film from classic Hollywood.

This new production, directed by Nikolai Foster, is bolstered with excellent set and costume design from Colin Richmond. The set, which is minimalistic in its design, unfolds and adapts to meet the needs of the musical, transforming from Norma's mansion into a film lot and diner with resounding success as one scene folds into another at a rapid pace.

Despite having come from the mastermind behind some of the biggest shows in the West End, Sunset Boulevard is one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's least known shows. It's a shame that it's staged so infrequently because it packs an enchanting story, smash hit songs, and an incredible score - performed live by a full orchestra in this production, which is how it deserves to be seen.

The Tony award-winning musical has been dubbed a "masterpiece" by many. It's a word that's thrown around rather liberarly but it's quite true of this production. One would hope, that after the success of this production, Sunset Boulevard will continue to be a staple on the touring ciruit for some time to come.

Sunset Boulevard isn't Phantom of the Opera but it deserves more attention that it receives. There's no doubt about it here: this mesmerizing new production should not be missed. Head down to 10086 Sunset Boulevard, by way of New Wimbledon Theatre, from April 12 - 14.

 

After Sunset Boulevard finishes its run at the New Wimbledon Theatre it will continue on its nationwide tour, moving to Canterbury and then Sheffield. More details here.

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