After rave reviews and standing ovations every night at the London Coliseum, Sunset Boulevard promised to be a spectacular evening of musical theatre. Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s famous score was brought to life by a live orchestra, each musical number sung beautifully. Colin Richmond‘s dynamic set morphed seamlessly from opulent, sinister mansion to wholesome, ebullient diner, hitting Hollywood stages, romantic rooftops and atmospheric cityscapes in between. The original story unfurled in all its menacing, and yet, there was something still lacking in the production.
Whilst well-performed, the orchestra overpowered the actors’ voices on occasion, drowning out song lyrics and in doing so, losing precious parts of the storyline. After an energetic, fast-paced opening, the first act dragged itself to the midway curtain, peaking to the possibility of interval then plunging back for another few minutes of repetitious action. Leading lady Ria Jones, as the increasingly possessive and unhinged faded silent movie star Norma Desmond, possessed a strong, rich voice but each song sounded like the one which came before, spilling into one reprising, at times lacklustre, lament.
Manipulative, deluded and incredibly self-obsessed, without the emotional pull to inspire pity and compassion, Norma Desmond is simply a very unlikable character. With few redeeming qualities and not enough sass, humour or heinous plots to be an all-out villain, it is a struggle to emotionally engage with her story, and thus, the outcome of it. Her standout performance did, however, make its appearance at the end of the show with Ria Jones perfectly portraying the final release of Norma’s fragile mind from reality, with a commitment, authenticity and pure artistry unseen from her prior to that point.
Danny Mac more than stepped up to the mark in his role of mercenary script writer, Joe Gillis; his smoother-than-honey voice making for easy listening in both speech and song. His eye-candy potential was suitability utilised with Mac appearing in varying degrees of undress throughout the evening, belting out the titular song in an open shirt and a pair of briefs. Yet despite his obvious appeal, overt sexualisation and a few racier than usual kisses, a spark of chemistry between Mac and Jones simply failed to appear.
Instead, the true love story of the evening was that of Norma’s devoted ex-husband and director-turned-servant, Mav Von Meyerling, played by Adam Pearce. Pearce brought an exquisite sadness to the role, exhibiting his unwavering devotion to Norma with a quiet dignity, and displaying an astonishing vocal range in each of his songs.
Under different circumstances such a show as this may well have triumphed, but both Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Wales Millennium Centre command high expectations, and whether due to David Grindrod’s casting or Nikolai Foster’s direction of the story, Sunset Boulevard simply failed to fully deliver the magic of musical theatre expected from the union such a renowned venue and composer.