Sunset Boulevard Review 1996
This is a sad and touching story where you cannot help but feel for Norma Desmond, as she refuses to admit to herself that her career is over. The show is a little muted in the first act but the second act is superb.
Norma Desmond is played by Rita Moreno, who is standing in for Petula Clark for a couple of months. What a fine performance she gave, and considering she is over 60-years-old it shows what talent she has. She fitted in to the part very well and she only had two weeks to rehearse the show before she made her first appearance. Her voice sounded confident and delightful, but lacked the strong full bodied sound that Elaine Paige has. But then Elaine Page is a master of these type of shows and of course younger. ( I cannot compare Moreno with Petula Clark because I've not seen 'Sunset' with Clark yet). You could tell Moreno was loving every moment of her performance all her talent and experience sparkled throughout.
Graham Bickley who plays Joe Gillis, the young man that helps her with the book, puts in a fine performance, so too does the butler played by Michael Bauer.
The set is fantastic, a magnificent house is brought on the stage and taken off again with such ease and it looks wonderful. It has got to be one of the finest sets I've seen in the theatre. In my opinion this is Andrew Lloyd Webber's best musical and one you must put on your 'must see' list.
Based on the classic 1940's films starring Gloria Swanson and directed by Billy Wilder, this is the story of Norma Desmond, a huge star of silent movies, who was ousted from fame with the birth of talkies. She dreams of returning to the silver screen, unable to accept the fact that her fans have deserted her and she is now completely out of touch. She has written a movie script based on 'Salome', that she intends to submit to the studio, to be produced of course, with her in the starring role. She enlists Joe Gillis, a young writer who has fallen on hard times, to help her with the editing. She falls in love with him, the rest you can find out when you see it for yourself!
Rita Moreno (apparently the only woman to have ever won 6 major showbusiness awards) is the latest in the impressive list of actresses to have played Norma (which includes Glenn Close, Elaine Paige, Patti LuPone, Betty Buckley and Dihann Carroll). She is covering the role for a couple of months while Petula Clark is on holiday. Miss Moreno is an accomplished actress, who had mastered the gestures, movements and expression of the silent movie star. Her performance was passionate, and full of emotion, however she did not seem at all comfortable with some of the more challenging singing, and wasn't able to give the ballads the spectacular vocal endings that some of her predecessors had managed with ease.
Michael Bauer did an excellent job as Max, he has a rich voice and is well suited to the role. Graham Bickley was a pleasing Joe Gillis, but didn't make a strong enough impact. Fiona Sinnot has a well controlled voice that is a pleasure to listen to, and she handled the role of Betty Schaeffer very well.
John Napierhas been responsible for some of the most spectacular sets seen on the West End stage, but here he has surpassed himself. Much of the magic is achieved by use of shadow and silhouette. A full size classic Rolls Royce is a remarkable feature, but the interior of Norma's mansion is the highlight. It is stunning, though its elegance is attributable to more than its vast size. It is beautifully styled, with great attention to detail. It certainly has the feel of somewhere that had once entertained the likes of Rudolph Valentino and Fatty Arbuckle. The size and complexity of the set did not hinder the pace of the production, all changes were executed swiftly and smoothly.
Andrew Lloyd Webber's music excels in this production. He is at his best when composing these sweeping romantic melodies, in theatrical settings. The show has some wonderful ballads, many of which have been recorded by such stars as Barbra Streisand and Shirley Bassey .
This is a very enjoyable production, full of memorable tunes, a great plot, interesting characters and very visual. If you have not yet seen it, I recommend you do so as soon as possible.
(Jason L Belne)