Sunset Boulevard, Birmingham Hippodrome - review with pictures
It is the story of a faded movie star desperate to make a glorious return and feel the adoration of the audience once again.
So it was fitting that Ria Jones’ spectacular depiction of Norma Desmond in this particular production of Sunset Boulevard earned the show a deserved standing ovation on opening night.
The musical opens with the death of screenwriter Joe Gillis, Danny Mac, who proceeds to tell the tale of how he ended up face down in the swimming pool of a Californian mansion.
But the dark opening is swiftly forgotten in the following scene which captures the frantic hustle and bustle of a 1949 Hollywood. In truth it is a little hard to figure out exactly what is happening in this early malaise but it all lends to the chaotic nature of the setting it is trying to portray.
But once Gillis stumbles on the grandiose home of Desmond – the ageing former goddess of the silent era – the plot settles into a more straightforward love story.
And it was Desmond who prompted the first raucous applause of the evening with her opening musical number, but it was soon matched by the penetratingly pure tones of her butler Max Von Meyerling, Adam Pearce. He boasted the finest vocals on night which were given greater impact upon the revelation that his character is far more significant than first appearances allude to. Danny Mac, who many may recognise from Hollyoaks and last year’s Strictly Come Dancing, anchors the whole show with an energetic performance of Gillis that keeps the pace rattling along as it hurtles from a slow sinister scene in the mansion one moment to a buzzing bar the next.
It is all impressively delivered with top notch staging. as you would expect at the Birmingham Hippodrome. Flashing images across the various bits of scenery are used to excellent effect during car sequences and when Desmond is recalling her prime. While the spectacular arching gateway to the Paramount Pictures entrance serves as a subtle reminder of the inflated nature of the setting.
The orchestra deserve special credit for underpinning the entire production with a sweeping a melodramatic soundtrack.
But nothing was able to outshine the true star of the show which was of course Jones’s Desmond. She had the audience laughing, applauding, empathising and perhaps even fearful fearing by the end of it all.
The show runs until Saturday.