Touring – reviewed at Curve Theatre, Leicester
Ria Jones’ extraordinary history with Sunset Boulevard might well be entitled The Norma Conquests – from originally workshopping the role of Norma Desmond for Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Don Black and Christopher Hampton (book and lyrics) in 1991 to her headline-grabbing stint as Glenn Close’s understudy in last year’s ENO staged concert version of the show to finally getting to play the leading role in her own right on this UK tour, premiering at Leicester’s Curve, some 26 years later.
And was it worth the wait? Jones certainly is making the most of her well-deserved moment, offering a different skillset for her markedly different interpretation. Jones is undoubtedly the better singer, the lushness of her voice soaring effortlessly to the impassioned heights of the score. And she’s a different kind of actress, offering a brasher, more manic kind of energy to this former movie star caught up in a fantasy world when a young screenwriter (Danny Mac) accidentally offers hope to her faded career.
As for the rest of the production though, it didn’t quite hit the mark for me. Perhaps it is having seen the show so recently, that itch has been well and truly scratched for me and it doesn’t necessarily feel so strong a piece of theatre that will tempt people back which is what a classic musical needs to succeed on the road. So I wonder how the show will fare on its extensive tour without a name like Close to draw people (you sense producers releasing pics of Mac in his trunks recognises the work already underway).
There’s good work in the company from the likes of Molly Lynch as script editor Betty and long-time Lloyd Webber collaborator Adam Pearce as the loyal Max. And Nikolai Foster’s production works hard to look (Colin Richmond’s design) and sound (Adrian Kirk’s musical direction) a cut above your average touring musical. The main issue for me lies in a score overly reliant on pastiche and a book that has never heard of the term subtlety. I’m glad I’ve seen Sunset Boulevard, and in particular Ria Jones, but it’s hard not shake the feeling that I don’t think I want to see it again anytime soon.
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)Photo: Manuel HarlanBooking until 30th September then touring to…PLAYHOUSE THEATRE, Edinburgh – 03 OCTOBER – 07 OCTOBER 2017THEATRE ROYAL, Newcastle – 09 OCTOBER – 14 OCTOBER 2017SWANSEA GRAND THEATRE – 16 OCTOBER – 21 OCTOBER 2017PALACE THEATRE, Manchester – 23 OCTOBER – 04 NOVEMBER 2017HIS MAJESTY’s THEATRE, Aberdeen – 06 NOVEMBER – 11 NOVEMBER 2017HIPPODROME, Birmingham – 13 NOVEMBER – 18 NOVEMBER 2017BORD GAIS ENERGY THEATRE, Dublin – 20 NOVEMBER – 25 NOVEMBER 2017MILTON KEYNES THEATRE – 28 NOVEMBER – 02 DECEMBER 2017HIPPODROME, Bristol – 09 JANUARY – 13 JANUARY 2018MAYFLOWER THEATRE, Southampton – 16 JANUARY – 20 JANUARY 2018NEW VICTORIA THEATRE, Woking – 22 JANUARY – 27 JANUARY 2018CLIFFS PAVILLION, Southend – 29 JANUARY – 03 FEBURARY 2018ALHAMBRA THEATRE, Bradford – 05 FEBRUARY – 10 FEBRUARY 2018EMPIRE THEATRE, Liverpool – 19 FEBRUARY – 24 FEBRUARY 2018WALES MILLENNIUM CENTRE, Cardiff – 26 FEBRUARY – 03 MARCH 2018REGENT THEATRE, Ipswich – 5 MARCH – 10 MARCH 2018THEATRE ROYAL, Plymouth – 12 MARCH – 17 MARCH 2018NEW THEATRE, Wimbledon – 09 APRIL – 14 APRIL 2018MARLOWE THEATRE, Canterbury – 16 APRIL – 21 APRIL 2018LYCEUM THEATRE, Sheffield – 23 APRIL – 28 APRIL 2018