Amateur theatre can sometimes be hit and miss, but recently it seems that there is work going on in this sector that is close to professional standard in places. So it is with this version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Don Black musical, the first amateur production of ‘Sunset Boulevard’ to be staged, and with the announcement of the ENO version coming next Spring, one may view this version as an appetizer.
My husband attended with me, and he is not familiar with the show at all. I am, both film and show are firm favourites of mine, and so we were both coming to this show with different expectations. What struck me first was the rather odd idea of having every sequence performed as if it was a shot within a film, with cameramen, clapperboards, cuts and steps out of character. As this is based on an iconic film, it didn’t bother me, but it was really just a way to distract the audience from stage and set changes.
As Norma Desmond, Susan Booth was terrific, especially in her second act solo ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’ which gave me goosebumps. She was touching in her madness and her vulnerability, too. Patrick Harrison, as Max, was note perfect as an actor, if not quite as a singer (but his solo number is a notoriously difficult song to put across, and his interpretation was valid enough), and his loving guardianship of the woman he still saw as his teenage wife, the ‘greatest star of all’ was well-defined.
Michael Stacey’s Joe was just the right mix of self-absorption and opportunitism, and his voice was fine in both his solo number ‘Sunset Boulevard’ and in his desperate duet with Betty, ‘Too Much in Love to Care’. Betty was played by the sparkling Nikki Davison, as an ingenue who would be spat out by the Hollywood system she didn’t quite understand. The company, too, threw themselves into the ensemble pieces with their heart and soul, whether welcoming a New Year, offering beauty treatments or new suits to the principals, or setting the scene for a dog-eat-dog movie wonderland which had seedy edges of disappointment.
The set and staging, too, was effective, from the glow of Norma’s swimming pool in the opening scene, the iconic staircase from which she descends for her ‘close-up’, the rolled-out tiles on which Valentino once tangoed, to the car in which Joe drove from his debtors through dark and dreary streets in a filmed backdrop.
Sarah Burrell’s orchestra also deserve a nod, although at times they overpowered the singers, especially in ensemble pieces. Overall, though, this was an excellent version of one of my favourite shows, which made me laugh, moved me, and kept me watching. My husband also liked the show despite knowing nothing of the plot, so I would also give it a nod for newbies unfamiliar with the source material.
Last performance is on tonight.