Douglas Mayo reviews Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard in concert presented online by Curve Leicester’s At Home initiative.
Sunset Boulevard in Concert
Curve Theatre Leicester – Streaming Now
I was impressed with Nikolai Foster’s touring production of Sunset Boulevard which originated at the Curve in Leicester in 2018, which also starred Ria Jones, Danny Mac and Adam Pearce. Tier restrictions have now meant removing the live audience to take the show online. Foster and his team have stripped out the set to great effect and, in presenting a concert version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, raised the bar for theatre streaming. Filming and streaming of readings, concerts, stage shows and special events have come a long way since the first UK lockdown in March. In streaming Sunset Boulevard, every traditional concert staging notion has been thrown out and in its place they have created something quite incredible. It is a game-changer.
Ria Jones is back as Norma Desmond, silent movie star who got left behind when the industry changed overnight, and Danny Mac is Joe Gillis, the screenwriter who knows a good thing when he sees one. Adam Pearce is Max, the protective butler with a secret who watches over the well-being of Norma, while ingenue Betty Sheaffer is played by Molly Lynch. They all provide a solid foundation for Foster to build his vision on despite the challenges of a pared-back concert production.
Foster’s direction gives Joe film-like close-ups so that when he breaks the fourth wall as the narrator he really is addressing you in a way that the stage production just can’t quite manage. Both of the spaces at Curve have been opened up, linked via the main stage, with action taking place right up at the back of the main house circle, in the lighting and fly platform high above the stage, and in the studio space which is enlisted for scenes such as Schwab’s Drugstore. With a large revolve and enormous lighting rig at the centre, there is not a corner of the available spaces that isn’t used.
Colin Richmond’s design, Douglas O’Connell’s projections and Ben Cracknell’s lighting work in concert to create a visually arresting space for us sitting at home. This is theatre’s version of a Hollywood sound stage and it looks incredible. Tom Marshall’s sound – from our viewing point at home – is flawless and, considering the number of roving players wandering through this huge space along with an orchestra and more moving cameras than you can imagine, this is an operation of military proportions. You would never know it though as Foster and choreographer Lee Proud keep the action fluid. This is not “theatre in the round”; it is something much more than that. Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricists Don Black and Christopher Hampton should be please with the musical dynamics and the clarity of the libretto.
As far as the music itself, the score has been beautifully handled by Stephen Brooker and Chris Mundy, and the orchestra – which can be seen (socially distant) in the pit – is superb. Sunset’s gorgeous filmic underscoring (played at full volume when I watched it at home) brought me to tears several times as I realised not only what had been achieved in this production but also just how much I missed live theatre.
I’ve seen several different settings of Sunset Boulevard over the years with each having its relative merits, but the closure of the theatre to audiences as a result of the pandemic has allowed for Foster, his team and the cast to really fly with this production. It is nothing short of an event, and I would go as far as to say the best-streamed event I have seen this year. It is just a shame that there isn’t the ability to have greater control over the timing for viewing when, in the run-up to Christmas, my doorbell kept ringing with deliveries during the streaming. Annoying but unavoidable.
Luckily, Sunset Boulevard in Concert will continue streaming until 9 January 2021 which will give me a few more opportunities to go back and admire it again.