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Sunset Boulevard – Tour De Force
Phil Hopkins, Travel & Arts Correspondent
Ria Jones is Norma Desmond. Photo by Manuel Harlan
Theatre addicts going cold turkey after the buffoonery of a Christmas laden with pantos, may well feel they have fallen off the wagon if they succumb to a quick fix of Sunset Boulevard, for it will give them a rush like no other.

Like a child deprived of sweets by an enthusiastic mother eager to implement a new eating regime, I was the naughty boy who sneaked into the confectionary aisle and snaffled a couple of pear drops just to spite her.

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As the first real big musical of 2018, this Lloyd Webber offering and its leading lady, Ria Jones as Norma Desmond, the silent movie star in the twilight of life, was absolutely wonderful. It is no surprise that she understudied Glenn Close when the American actress played the role in London’s West End.

Relatively speaking it is a small cast and, although it is draped with a ubiquitous array of tinsel town types – cameo scriptwriters, barmen, producers and the like – it is essentially a show driven by four protagonists; Norman Desmond, Joe Gillis as young scriptwriter Danny Mac and Adam Pearce as Max Von Meyerling, with a smattering of Molly Lynch as actress turned script reader, Betty Schaefer.

And, with each passing minute, it draws you into its web with all the dexterity of a spider eager to secure its evening meal.

Desmond is the ageing silent movie has-been now living in a gilded cage, a mansion on Sunset Boulevard, while Joe Gillis is the young scriptwriter who happens upon her hideaway after his car breaks down nearby.

She thinks he is the local animal undertaker who has dropped in to remove her beloved dead monkey. Frosty at first, Desmond falls for his charms whilst he develops a morbid fascination for an old-school movie star, obsessed by the Hollywood glory days and making a comeback or, as she puts it, a ‘return’.



This musical is totally dependent on Norma Desmond and Joe Gillis for its backbone, and Jones and Mac really do deliver, although it is a show that could so easily go the other way in the wrong hands.

Adam Pearce as Max Von Meyerling, Desmond’s former director, divorced husband and now her infatuated butler cum chauffeur, was wonderfully stoic with an amazing vocal range that went from boot straps to falsetto.

In directing this show Nikolai Foster realised one major point; Norma Desmond needed to be larger than life before she had even opened her mouth. At the end of the day she was a silent movie star who built her career on looks, glances and visual asides.

Ria Jones embraced the role completely and grew physically throughout, rising above everyone around her. It is the first time I have seen Sunset Boulevard but, somehow, I know it is one of those shows that will deliver something different every night, even if no words were spoken; a masterclass in characterisation.

Bradford Alhambra
Until Saturday 10th February 2018

Sunset Boulevard – Tour De Force, 6th February 2018, 14:55 PM