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I am big. It was the pictures that got small
Member Name: DancingCopper
Advantages: Incredible feat of musical performance
Disadvantages: Mediocre music
The first thing I had heard about this production was that it was being directed by Craig Revel Horward - the nasty judge from BBC's Strictly Come Dancing (the one who also comes out with the most constructive and least hyperbolic comments, in my opinion).
I knew Sunset Boulevard had been made into a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber but had missed it the first time round. I can't say I'm drawn to some of his works - Jesus Christ Superstar had the messiah upstaged by Judas, Starlight Express seemed so selfindulgent and if I hear Memory one more time...
I can forgive everything because he brought The Phantom of the Opera to the stage and he has done a lot to revitalise the West End with The Sound of Music, Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and Oliver!
Sunset Boulevard is based on the 1950 film of the same name, written and directed by Samuel 'Billy' Wilder. It stared William Holden as Joe Gillis and Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond. The latter is a faded and reclusive silent movie star, with the former a new writer trying to break into Hollywood. The dog-eat-dog world of the movies is as true today as it was back then, meaning the themes still resonate with a modern audience. The film was a superb example of the noir genre, from the narrative voice-over of a dead body through to Norma's dillusional walk down the staircase.
It is always a tough job translating a piece of art from one form to another and putting this story on stage could have led to a very poor, amateur-looking whodunnit play. I was unfamiliar with Lloyd Webber's music, and found it disappointing, humourless and unmemorable but you need to watch this play for the acting.
Revel Horwood's choreography and the performances of the entire case were nothing short of stunning. In most other shows the performers and musicians are distinct. In some, such as Grease or Chicago, the musicians feature as performers within the story, usually as minor characters. In Sunset Boulevard, the musicians are the actors. They sing, dance, play and deliver dialogue often at the same time as plucking, blowing or banging. They also move some of the set. I was blown away!
Kathryn Evans was excellent as Norma Desmond. She radiated that middle-aged desperation the part needs, delivering Norma's songs with passion and anguish. She was the only performer who didn't also play a musical instrument - but she did have a rather precarious staircase to contend with.
Ben Goddard, as Joe, turned from Hollywood hopeful to self-congratulatory toy-boy with ease. How he can turn out that performance eight times a week is amazing. He truly was all-singing, all-dancing.
The remainder of the company complement superb musical prowess with credible performances - something that the West End frequently lacks. Revel Horwood's influence is clear in the tight choreography which includes ballroom and latin steps as well as some superb theatrical devices - slow motion dance sequences, combined with eerie music and effective lighting create some truly haunting moments.
The stage is fairly simple by West End standards. The small space has to accommodate the musicians and their instruments, being so integral to the show. The central feature is Norma Desmond's famous staircase and it does maintain the feel of a film set. There is also some clever use of projection. The Comedy Theatre was small, but charming and with better leg room than some flea-pits.
The negatives are, as I said, mostly to do with Lloyd Webber's music. The theatre itself suffers from that all-to-familiar West End problem of being unfit for purpose. Too much use of smoke and poor ventilation made my eyes sting, and the temperature of the auditorium made me nod off a couple of times. Based on the material Revel Horwood was working with, he created a superb piece of theatre.
It was very disappointing seeing such an empty auditorium but I don't think it's a show likely to pull people in. It doesn't have the humour of Cabaret, or the family appeal of The Lion King. It's got a mediocre score and a soulless story. What it does have is an incredible display of performers' versatility and a director who knows what they want without relying on technical effects. I don't think it will be on for very long, and young kids will hate you for taking them (because you forgot to get The Lion King tickets), but it is excellently put together and shows, in my opinion, that you can polish a turd.
---------- Show Information ----------
Showing from Monday 22 December 2008 to Saturday 18 April 2009
Official Website: http://www.ambassadortickets.com/896/667/london/Co medyTheatre/SunsetBoulevard
(this will give you an idea of ticket prices, but shop around to pick up the best deals)
Summary: The twilight of a silent movie star transferred to stage
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