Sunset Boulevard – Bord Gais Energy Theatre – Review by Fran Winston
Tickets €20-€60. Show 7.30pm nightly until November 25th.Matinee 2.30pm Saturday 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 Glen Close, Stephanie Powers and Patti Lupone take on the iconic role of Norma. Opening first in London in 1993, it enjoyed several long runs internationally and has 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 it sags when Norma is not on stage in this case Danny manages to keep the energy going. 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 “stage-hands” 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.