Wednesday, 24 January 2018

REVIEW: Sunset Boulevard at The New Victoria Theatre, Woking

Following on from Sunset Boulevard’s smash-success run at the ENO, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s much-loved musical has been touring the UK with a magnificent 16 piece orchestra. We follow struggling writer, Joe Gillis, on his quest to create a movie script which will get his name in the Hollywood history books. On his way, he meets Norma Desmond – once upon a time, a Silent Screen starlet, whose light is somewhat fading as films in Hollywood progress. Desperate to launch her return to film and fame, she shows Joe a screen-play she has been developing: a mish-mash mess about Salome – in which the aging Desmond plans to play the 16-year-old lead…. Needless to say, the plot doesn’t sit too well with Gillis, so he agrees to work with Desmond to re-write the screenplay and launch her return to the industry. In time, their relationship becomes blurred and Desmond begins to emotionally blackmail Gillis, threatening suicide and damnation if he leaves her. The story escalates and climaxes with a series of dramatic eventualities at her home, 10086 Sunset Boulevard. 

As Norma Desmond is Ria Jones, who made headlines when understudying Glen Close at the ENO in the same role. I had the pleasure of hearing her sing at the WhatsOnStage Awards last February and she received a full standing ovation after just one number. In Sunset Boulevard, she is utterly compelling and gripping as Norma. The power of her performance came from deep within her. Her eyes were so expressive that her inner monologue was almost audible. “As If We Never Said Goodbye” is one of my all-time favourite Musical Theatre songs, and the version I heard last night is my new definitive rendition. Moving and emotionally harrowing – it was perfection.

At Woking’s New Victoria Theatre, we were treated to Dougie Carter in the role of Joe Gillis, the role played by Danny Mac at the majority of other venues on the UK tour. I had the pleasure of reviewing Carter’s performance as Jean-Michel during the recent tour of La Cage Aux Folles and I described him as “effortlessly lovable and smooth”. He channels the ambitious Gillis very well and uses his youth in the role to portray a slight innocence and naivety, whilst still being clearly driven and relentless in his pursuits. His age makes for an interesting dynamic against Ria Jones – believable, yet suitably unsettling. 

As Norma Desmond’s butler, Max Von Meyerling, is Adam Pearce – a performer whom I have had the pleasure to see on the West End many times over the years. As always, he was sensational. There is no other vocalist like him on the Musical Theatre circuit. His performance was staggering – the range he covers as the dark and mysterious Max is commendable and I could have listened to him sing alone on that stage for hours more. Quite frankly, this show is worth seeing for Pearce’s performance alone. 

As Betty Schaefer, Molly Lynch was wonderful. I could easily pluck her from this cast to be a leading soprano in any other production and I do not doubt she would be at ease. I’ll be keeping my eyes out for more from this young talent – she was fabulous. 

The evening featured some lighting challenges (namely a lazy follow-spot) which caused some unfortunate giggles from the audience as we attempted to watch performers but could see only shadows in darkness. Overall though, this production is beautiful and verges on cinematic in its grandeur. The score is moving and the performers are all exceptional, however, Ria Jones really is The Greatest Star of All. 

Rating: ★★★★

Review by Harriet Langdown
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