Sunset Boulevard is an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical based on the Billy Wilder film. It’s a real insight into how the big Hollywood film industry works and how people try to survive.
Joe Gillis is a struggling playwright who is trying to get some work at Paramount studios. The opening number ‘Lets Have Lunch’ is a classic incorporating a range of fake people who are pretending to like each other when really, they are all looking for that next step up the ladder. Many dream of fame or their big break. Actor, Writer, Director – they all have to start somewhere. Joe is trying to avoid some repo men so drives into an old house not realising where he is. He is in Norma Desmond’s mansion. Norma was a huge star of the silent movies and when he realises who she is he says 'You used to be in pictures; you used to be big' to which Norma replies, 'I am big — it's the pictures that got small!'. Norma lives alone with Max, her butler who really does everything around the house for her. When he mentions he is a writer she asks him to read her script she has written herself and will star in too, despite being considered too old at 50 for the lead role. Joe accepts the job to help her as he is desperate for the money and thinks it will be a quick job. She lavishes him with gifts, insists he moves into the house and he slowly become a kept man. He realises he is almost a prisoner so goes out to meet his friend Artie and his fiancée, Betty, at Artie’s New Years eve party. She is keen to work with Joe on one of his scripts and so they start to meet secretly.
Joe is played by Danny Mac and he is absolutely exceptional in the role. He is almost in every scene but sings and dances his way through the show with such skill that it’s a joy to watch him. Mac fans will be delighted to know he bares his top half in the second half - worth the ticket price on its own! But Danny is a very talented individual and is believable in the role, demonstrating his frustrations and warmer understanding side in the role. Ria Jones is the Diva Norma Desmond and although her first impression isn’t one that commands the room with confidence and attitude, she builds the role and fills it well. She seemed to struggle at times with the range of vocals but more than made up for all of it within the last half hour of the show. In fact, she was outstanding in the final scenes with some of the best acting ever seen. This is a dream role for any actress as it has such a range of emotions and attitudes, a great chance to demonstrate this and Ria certainly can do dramatic. Max is played by Adam Pearce and gives a sterling performance as Norma’s butler who is completely dedicated to her. He really shows his commitment and love to Norma and supports her in her darker moments. He is her rock without her realising. Adam shows how valuable Max is to Norma. Betty is played by Molly Lynch and she has a lovely singing voice and gives a great performance as Betty who is a real girl next door that also has ambition. Molly gives a heart-warming performance as Betty and the audience are rooting for her from the start, despite her falling for Joe while Artie is away on set.
There is a good range of songs and the show sets are incredible, going from a bar to a mansion with one smooth movement. The use of projection is also effective to give the illusion of a bigger stage and to transform images that fit the genre. The whole cast are fantastic and give a really great atmosphere of 1949’s Hollywood.
The sad fact remains that even today, many actresses are considered too old for the starring roles at 50. This show is just as relevant today as it was when it was first written.
I’m ready for my close up. I’m ready for Sunset Boulevard. At Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 2 December 2017.