Sunset Boulevard at Curve Theatre Online
Famed Hollywood director Billy Wilder’s 1950 film Sunset Boulevard comes freshly reworked by Nikolai Foster, recorded live at Leicester Curve theatre, and adapted from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical. This new concert performance has been created with a live 16-piece orchestra, and filmed for audiences at home.
The story takes place on New Year’s Eve 1949, with a cast of actors, writers, and filmmakers all trying to make a buck; the action follows burgeoning but down-on-his-luck screenwriter Joseph Gillis (Danny Mac). Chased by debt collectors, Joe is intent on escaping his rancid one-room apartment to pitch ideas to the big executives. As he runs to escape his debtors, he happens upon the secluded estate of silent film star Norma Desmond (a perfectly cast Ria Jones), who befriends him in the hope of reclaiming her glory days through a new script. Norma lives with her former husband Max von Mayerling (Adam Pearce) and employs Joe to be her live-in creative writing partner, falling in love with the young screenwriter, and trapping him anew with her neuroses.
The cast take their places in the auditorium seats, in a distinct change to the normal theatre experience. Jones reprises the role of Norma impeccably, with understated but deep understanding of the character – one moment deeply sad, the next yelling amusingly blunt one-liners. Pearce is also excellent as her domineering yet loyal ex-husband/aide, with a vibrating deep baritone that is imbued with aching emotion and nostalgia for a bygone era. Mac does an efficient job as Joe, though his interpretation leaves something to be desired.
While the performances are good, there is a certain lack of wholeness to the production in the simplicity of the set design (or lack thereof). However, overlaid montages of Hollywood, skilfully implemented by the visual team, replace these transitions. With the backstage and camera crew visible, as well as the lighting rigs and orchestra, it is undoubtedly a unique adaptation, and well executed despite the missing scenery. The production includes an overwhelming 32 songs, but the drama is a little deficient; nonetheless, Lloyd Webber’s music is effective, particularly Overture, which hauntingly reflects Norma’s melancholia.
Despite some shortcomings, this classic tale of romance and creativity shines brightly under Foster’s direction, and brings hope to production teams striving to make experiences for all those at home in need of a night out while staying in.
Sunset Boulevard is available to stream at Curve Theatre from 22nd December until 9th January 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.