Review: Sunset Boulevard at Palace Theatre

“You used to be big.”
“I am big. It’s the pictures that got small”

Back in 1991 Andrew Lloyd Webber brought Billy Wilder’s famous 1950 film noir Sunset Boulevard to the stage. It split audiences and critics alike – some loved it, others said it lacked the punch that Lloyd Webber’s previous musicals delivered.

Despite casting big names, such as Hollywood A-lister Glenn Close and West End royalty Elaine Paige, it still never quite became the success of Phantom or even Jesus Christ Superstar. For a while it faded away, like the silent movie star in its show Norma Desmond, but luckily it has made a recent comeback and is finally getting the acclaim it deserves on its UK tour.

The latest production, directed by Nikolai Foster, stars last years’ Strictly Come Dancing runner-up Danny Mac as down on his luck screenwriter Joe Gillis. Mac has made some clever choices since finishing the BBC dance show, firstly taking on the Gene Kelly role of Gabey in On The Town and now playing a heavy weight role that sees him onstage for most of the musical, guiding the audience through the twists and turns of Sunset Boulevard.

Mac is a great fit for Joe, the wise-cracking cynical screenwriter, looking to earn a fast buck and escape the debt collectors chasing his tail…and his car! There’s no denying Danny Mac is easy on the eye but he also proves he’s not just a pretty face with his superb vocals (particularly in his solo performance of the title track) and his acting prowess, making you love him one moment then despise him the next.

If Danny Mac is the starters, then Ria Jones is certainly the main course as she serves up a treat for audiences as the silver screen diva in decline, Norma Desmond. 26 years after workshopping the role for Lloyd Webber at his private theatre, Jones has finally got her moment in the spotlight with this tour.

Her stellar performance has the audience transfixed from the moment she sweeps down the staircase of Norma’s Hollywood mansion and delivers a plethora of emotion and drama in every song she sings and dialogue she utters.

Adam Pearce provides brilliant support as foreboding butler, Max Von Mayerling, displaying some beautiful baritone vocals and managing to switch from menacing to moving as he illustrates his love for the lady of the house.

It’s hard to find fault with this production as it hits the mark on every level. There’s a stunning set design courtesy of Colin Richmond which sees huge staircases roll in and out of scenes, plus backdrops cleverly interweaved with Douglas O’ Connell’s projections of old silent movies. In the blink of an eye you are witness to a Hollywood movie lot turn into an American café bar then back to a breath-taking mansion. Genius!

Finally, a big nod must also be given to the fantastic 15-piece live orchestra led by Adrian Kirk which gives Lloyd Webbers melodic score the justice it deserves, delighting the audience to unforgettable numbers such as A Perfect Year, With One Look and As If We Never Said Goodbye.

There’s no surprise Sunset Boulevard has been receiving standing ovations every night of the tour, this is a sensational show and cements Ria Jones as truly one of the ‘greatest stars of all’.

Runs at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until 4th November

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