Newcastle Theatre Royal – until 14 October 2017
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard arrives at the beautiful Theatre Royal in Newcastle for a new week on its new UK tour.
Joe Gillis (the incredibly talented Danny Mac) is a skint screenwriter, hustling studio execs for money or a job. In a bid to shake off debt collectors after his car, he ends up at 10086 Sunset Boulevard the home of faded movie star Norma Desmond (the phenomenal Ria Jones).
Mistaken for the undertaker he waits while Desmond sings a lament to her dead companion, a pet monkey. Discovering Gillis is a writer she invites him to read her new screenplay, Salome. This is the film that will see Desmond return to the silver screen, playing the title role herself.
Kept a virtual prisoner by Desmond and her manservant Max (Adam Pearce – whose vocals are both tender and commanding), he manages to escape to New Year Party at Schwab’s after Desmond declares her love for him. He bumps into his friend Artie (Dougie Carter) and his fiancee Betty (Molly Lynch) who wants to write a screenplay with Gillis. It’s during the party that Gillis discovers in his rejection of Desmond she has cut her wrists with his razor. He returns back to her, his life now bound as tightly to her as the bandages bound around her cut wrists.
The songs are the thing for this show, Lloyd Webber’s luscious music and powerful lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton. A triumphant masterpiece, brought to life by Adrian Kirk and his 16-piece orchestra. Charismatic but calculating, Danny Mac’s Gillis, sings and acts with impressive commitment and talent, particularly in the show’s powerful title song “Sunset Boulevard”. Barely off stage, his is a complex portrayal that mines the darkness of his character beautifully. Ria Jones presents a masterclass in performance as she plays to the whole audience from the stalls to the gallery. Her hauntingly beautiful versions of “With One Look” and “The Greatest Star of All” introduce you to her bewilderment of no longer acting and her fragile emotional state. But it’s in the second act where she sings “As if we Never Said Goodbye” that Jones stops the show with the power of her vocals, articulating all the facets of Norma’s psyche, from the pride and glory of her past, clinging to her dreams and her sanity.
When it is revealed that Max is really her first film director Max Von Meyerling, and her first husband, Gillis understands the strange facade in which he has been trapped and tries to leave to be with Betty, with whom he has fallen in love whilst writing with her.
It’s easy to see why Max needs to protect “Madam”, keeping up the pretence she is still a huge star but maybe if he had been a bit more honest it might have had less fatal consequences for all.
This is an emotional roller coaster of a night out. A full scale spectacular from the sets to the band, to the blistering climax. Sunset Boulevard is possibly the greatest masterpiece from the Lloyd Webber repertoire, the shining jewel in his theatrical crown.