Douglas Mayo reviews Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard starring Ria Jones as part of the UK Tour and is impressed by the quality of this touring production.
New Victoria Theatre (Woking)
22 January 2018
UK Tour Schedule
I paid my first visit to Woking for the year last night to see the current UK tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard and one thing is for certain, this production has set the bar for production excellence, one that will be difficult to beat in 2018 and it's only January!
Based on Billy Wilder's iconic film of the same name, Lloyd Webber's Sunset features book and lyrics by the inestimable talents of Don Black and Christopher Hampton. This time round the production is helmed by Nikolai Foster and was originated at Leicester Curve. Foster's production concept with sets and costumes by Colin Richmond and video design by Douglas O'Connell, sees Norma Desmond and company play out the high melodrama of this story on a Hollywood sound stage, almost the filming of a musical as the action happens. The staging gives the evening a very filmic quality as scenes dissolve and locations change, leading characters are transported high aloft platforms effortlessly gliding from one side of the stage to their entrance points and use of historic film and location footage really helps create an atmosphere and an environment for this Norma to inhabit.
As Norma Desmond, Ria Jones is nothing short of superb! Vocally she is sheer perfection but as with much in this production it's the mannerisms that send a shudder right to your inner core as she lays her trap for Joe Gillis, predatory, watching and waiting to pounce which she does with precision might like a spider waiting for that fly to enter her web. You'd have to go a long way to better this performance.
Dougie Carter stands in for Danny Mack in Woking in the role of Joe Gillis. Note perfect and with some impressive acting chops, he is nonetheless a good ten years off inhabiting this role to its fullest potential. His young boyish looks and charm adding a whole new dimension to the creepiness of Norma's infatuation which at a time when Hollywood scruples are under the spotlight raised more than a few eyebrows in last night's audience.
One of the most impressive performances and certainly the one that I found the most interesting was that of Adam Pearce as Max. Like the proverbial onion, it was interesting to watch this character's layers stripped away. It's a wonderful performance and despite his incredible vocal dexterity it's some of the smaller moments that had the greatest effect on me as a viewer. Keep an eye out for his slight but reassuring moment with Norma as they grasp each others arms whilst watching an old film and the marvellous moment when Cecil B DeMille and Max come face to face, that fleeting instant of mutual respect is wonderous and it's these small moments that will really make this production stick in the memory of musical theatre fans.
The ensemble of this production work hard throughout and it is to their credit and Tom Marshall's sound design that every word in each of the studio and drug store scenes comes out crystal clear.
What really makes this production is the phenomenal 16 piece show orchestra under the baton of Adrian Kirk. What a joy it is to hear David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber's dark, brooding score in all it's glory! This talented bunch don't stop all night as much like a film, this production is underscored always giving the production a layer of emotional complexity completely in synch with the action underway on stage. What a joy it is to hear real strings in a musical theatre pit!
If this Sunset is heading to a theatre near you make a point of catching it. It's a top notch production that really deserves full houses.