Updated: Jan 15
Norma's back at last!
The award-winning 2017 touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's, Sunset Boulevard sees many of the cast return to The Curve once more; albeit with different staging due to Covid. The first thing that may surprise you about this 'in concert' version is that there's no set, well not in the traditional sense.
The artistic team at The Curve along with the director, Nikolai Foster, have restaged the show in a stroke of theatrical genius that encompasses the whole auditorium. Using every inch of the audience and performance space, even breaking the fourth wall to show the 16 piece orchestra and camera operators, makes this production a wonderful self-reflexive work of art. It's a hybrid of theatre and film which just ticks all the boxes for the story of 'Sunset' and it's evolution from screen to stage; it's a wonderful example of dramaturgy.
As the production is socially distanced, we miss out on the show's more intimate moments, but this is also a tale of 1940s Production Code era Hollywood. The fact that we have to use our imaginations only adds to the meta re-staging of the show. It takes a few minutes to process what is going on and realise the mastery behind the staging, but the beauty of that is that we can focus on the characters, the story and Lloyd Webber's score.
Playing the role of Norma Desmond once again is Ria Jones. Ria won acclaim when she stood in for Glenn Close in the 2017 London revival. In this streamed production, she gets the chance to show a wider audience exactly why she is so revered in the role. In terms of her interpretation of Norma, it's probably closer to Gloria Swanson's original portrayal.
Ria doesn't play Norma as this gargoyle, a has-been celluloid Miss Haversham, shunned by fans and studios, living an empty, melancholic existence, she takes a different, but no less powerful approach. She brings out Norma's playful, childlike naivety. It's as if that young girl who was adored by millions as a silent screen icon has never left. Yet, when those moments of bitter realisation of age and rejection take root, Ria is able to show us the darker, fragile part of Norma – the part that makes Miss Desmond one of the most enduring characters in film history. It's also why I'd rank her closely behind Glenn in of one the best stage Norma's. Of course, it goes without saying that her vocal abilities are also a cut above in terms of both expression and power. She doesn't just belt the songs, she becomes one with them.
Danny Mac is equally unrivalled in his portrayal of struggling writer Joe. His vocals are a perfect fit for the role and his to-camera narration allows us to really be a fly on the wall in Norma's mansion.
Adam Pearce as Norma's torch-carrier, Max, brings a meditative stance to the part. He also has a baritone to falsetto range that is simply divine. His rendition of 'The Greatest star of All' is superb and a highlight of the show. Molly Lynch also reprises her role as Betty Schaffer and is suitably cast as the rose-tinted young woman wanting her big break behind the scenes.
Of course, Covid has hit the industry hard, but this use of modern technology really shows the ability to thrive and adapt during times of uncertainty. Bringing a streamed version of the show to all us wonderful people out there in the dark of our front rooms might not be the same as watching the show live, but it's more than the next best thing. Sunset Boulevard 'In concert' is a totally absorbing experience and for the first time since 1950, Norma finally has her close-up.
Streaming until 17 Jan 2021