I have to admit, before last year, I had never even heard of Sunset Boulevard. It probably wouldn’t have even crossed my radar, if Molly Lynch, who also starred in The Last Five Years, hadn’t been appearing in the show. But, given how much I enjoyed Molly’s previous performance, I decided to give Sunset Boulevard a try, despite knowing very little about it.
Sunset Boulevard (with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and lyrics and book by Don Black and Christopher Hampton) is based on the 1950 film of the same name.
Set in 1940s Hollywood, it follows aging film star Norma Desmond and young screenwriter Joe Gillis as Gillis is ensnared by Desmond to help write her comeback film. What follows is a tale of love and obsession, which ultimately ends in tragedy.
The Curve’s production acts as a hybrid of sorts, nestling somewhere in-between theatre and film. With this in mind, there were definitely some aspects that didn’t work as well as others. I found the projections of Hollywood landmarks over the stage slightly grating to watch, and the first act felt somewhat rushed. It was hard to keep up with what was going on at points; thankfully it did settle and become easier to follow in the second act.
I also think the show suffers from having no real ‘standout song’. The orchestra does a great job, but there’s a lack of differentiation in the show’s melodies. The whole cast have exceptional vocal chops (Adam Pearce as Desmond’s ex-husband/bodyguard Max Von Mayerling particularly stood out for me), however this unfortunately doesn’t take away from the fact that the music itself lacks variety.
That being said, the main cast do a stellar job. Ria Jones portrays the aging Norma Desmond’s descent into madness with incredible conviction; she balances both the eccentricity and fragility of the character beautifully. Danny Mac seems in his element playing the smooth, jaded writer Gillis, and certainly excels at playing off the cameras. Molly Lynch as Betty Schaefer combines softness with sharp wit to great effect. She and Mac have a wonderful dynamic. Pearce definitely stands out amongst the leads, though. He has a stage presence that is impossible to ignore, and his devotion to Jones’ character shines through all of his songs.
The staging is certainly unique, director Nikolai Foster has the cast using every single inch of the Curve Theatre. In doing so, the theatre becomes a character in its own right, which is very effective. Scenes take place in the theatre’s seats, in backstage areas, and in scaffolds, which really makes the production feel dynamic and fresh. I also loved how visible the backstage crew were throughout the show; it felt very pertinent to show how vital backstage workers are with the current context of the pandemic.
The social distancing in the performance did feel odd in places, particularly in Lynch and Mac’s romantic duet, ‘Too In Love To Care’. However, there were definitely moments when it worked in the show’s favour, such as the brilliant ’New Year’s Tango’, between Jones and Mac.
Ultimately, I don’t think that Sunset Boulevard was the show for me, but I look forward to future online Curve productions. The production is available to stream from Curve Theatre until Saturday. You can book tickets here.
Words by Joanne Elliott.
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