Frances Winston reviews this musical based on the iconic film of the same name
Sunset Boulevard, Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Grand Canal Square, Docklands, Dublin 2, until 25th November
Billy Wilder’s seminal 1950 movie, sunset Boulevard, remains a masterpiece to this day, and marked a huge comeback for silent film siren, Gloria Swanson, playing, well, an ageing silent-film siren. It gave the public the phrase “I’m ready for my close up”, and saw Swanson nominated for an Oscar for the part (she lost to Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday).
Since the film is almost 80 years old, I’m not giving away any spoilers when I say that it opens with the body of screenwriter Joe Gillis floating in a swimming pool, and the rest of the movie is spent with him telling us how he got there. It’s a tale of intrigue, romance, obsession, and revenge, which musical theatre doyen, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, clearly thought would translate well into a musical.
Fast forward a few decades, and that musical is a multi-award winning phenomenon, that has seen some very big stars, such as Glenn Close, Stephanie Powers, and Patti Lupone, take on the iconic role of Norma.
Opening first in London in 1993, it has had several long runs internationally, and also enjoyed extensive tours, and it landed on Irish shores for a short run this week.
Starring Welsh actress, Ria Jones in the role of the deluded diva, it sees former Hollyoaks star, Danny Mac, take on the role of the doomed Joe. So much of this show rests on the chemistry between this pair, and aside from fantastic individual performances, they really do have an amazing electricity in scenes together.
While reviews of this show have often stated that the show sags when Norma is not on stage, in this case, Danny manages to keep the energy going for scenes that don’t feature the character. He is somewhat of a revelation, and has far more substance and depth in his performance than I expected.
Perhaps just as importantly, since this is a musical, they both have fantastic voices and impressive range, whether individually on songs such as Sunset Boulevard (Danny) or As If We Never Said Goodbye (Ria) or together on Perfect Year.
The supporting cast and chorus also do a fantastic job, and you really get a sense of the excitement of the Hollywood of the 1950s.
The staging takes advantage of the Hollywood setting, using ‘stagehands’ to move things around, while someone ‘films’, which gives it a meta feel. Throughout, they take advantage of projections, both at the back to the stage, and either side, which show Norma in her heyday, and various other scenes. While this looks great, it does mean that at times there is a lot going on, and it is impossible to pay attention to it all. Touring sets are tricky, as you want to maintain the feel of the show, but be portable. However, in this case, stripping it back a bit might have worked, and made some scenes feel less ‘cluttered’.
I was very familiar with the film, and I did wonder if people who didn’t know the movie would engage with it quite so well. Also, if you are familiar with the movie, it doesn’t have quite the sting of the original. Some of the movie’s more sinister moments are injected with humour here. This works, but does dilute the original message somewhat.
This aside, this is a fantastic production that is completely mesmerising if you take it on its own merits. It is snappy and well-paced, and will leave you with a smile on your face.
Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Grand Canal Square, Docklands, Dublin 2
Tickets €20-€60. Show 7.30pm nightly until November 25th
Matinee 2.30pm Saturday 25th November