Sunset Boulevard has one of the most incredible, and recognisable, scores in musical theatre, something that can often be overlooked as a result of the flamboyant and grandiose staging that usually accompanies the production. With theatres given a glimmer of hope, Curve Leicester had put a concert version of its acclaimed 2017 production at the heart of its socially distanced reopening season, but as Leicester found itself in Tier 3 restrictions, in-person performances were duly cancelled.
Not to be deterred, the venue, like many others, organised for a filmed version to be streamed over the festive season. Where some online productions feel like a necessary, but unfortunate, substitute for the real thing, Curve’s online Sunset Boulevard gives the world new ways to experience this sensational production, grasping every opportunity to create a version that could easily have come direct from Paramount Pictures.
The story of the faded silent movie star, who falls in love with a young writer she’s hired to help restart her career, comes originally from the Billy Wilder movie of the same name. So, it’s a musical that has always had a cinematic link, and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music and Don Black and Christopher Hampton’s lyrics and book only help to cement this.
Nikolai Foster’s visionary direction sees the cameras (only necessary because the current situation) almost become part of the cast. The operators are clearly seen in the wider shots that sweep across the theatre, while close up shots give the audience an intimate experience that would never be possible at an in person performance.
Further embracing the concept, the whole of the theatre’s auditorium is utilised. The sixteen piece orchestra frame the stage and the ensemble make use of some of the socially distanced seating that would have been otherwise reserved for audiences. Joe’s rooms above the garage are represented by the lighting rig, while the sight of Norma Desmond descending the stairs of the Dress Circle is quite something to behold.
The live performances are occasionally overlaid with film footage of that golden era, creating a visually stunning interpretation that outshines any other form of complex staging. Danny Mac makes for a wonderful Joe Gillis, accentuating his narrator role by building a rapport with the camera.
Ria Jones’ captivating portrayal of Norma Desmond is frankly something that every musical theatre lover has to witness. Powerful vocals that will make the hairs on the back of your next stand to attention are mixed with subtle character development and a deep affinity for the role.
Curve’s Sunset Boulevard may be one of the very few, if not the only, production to actually benefit from moving to an online format. The expansion out in to the auditorium and the embracing of the camera equipment, mixed with Ben Cracknell’s sumptuous lighting and Lee Proud’s dynamic choreography, makes for an outstanding theatrical production. Mr DeMille, with this new online version, Sunset Boulevard is more than ready for its close-up.
Sunset Boulevard streams from Curve, Leicester until 9th January 2021. Tickets are on sale here.