Review Roundup: SUNSET BOULEVARD Led By Sarah Brightman in Australia

The musical is now running at Melbourne's Princess Theatre followed by a season at the Sydney Opera House from August 28. 

By: May. 30, 2024
Review Roundup: SUNSET BOULEVARD Led By Sarah Brightman in Australia
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Sarah Brightman is leading an all new Australian production of Sunset Boulevard, now running at Melbourne's Princess Theatre followed by a season at the Sydney Opera House from August 28. 

SUNSET BOULEVARD has Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Book and Lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, and is based on the Billy Wilder film. This new production will be Directed by Paul Warwick Griffin with Set and Costume Design by Morgan Large. Choreography by Ashley Wallen with Musical Supervision by Kristen Blodgette.

SUNSET BOULEVARD weaves a magnificent tale of faded glory and unfulfilled ambition. Having been discarded by Hollywood with the advent of “talkies", legendary silent movie star, Norma Desmond, is tortured by her longing for a return to the big screen. When she meets struggling Hollywood screenwriter Joe Gillis in a dramatic chance encounter, their subsequent passionate and volatile relationship leads to an unforeseen and tragic conclusion.

Let's see what the critics are saying.

Tim Byrne, The Guardian: But Sarah Brightman – who leapt to fame originating the role of ingenue Christine Daaé in Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera – is simply not up to the task in Opera Australia’s new production, her first major theatre role in three decades. Not physically, not dramatically and certainly not vocally.

Jesse Chaffey, scenestr: The iconic Sarah Brightman fills the role of Norma Desmond with sheer delight. . . Dizzying charm. . . And something subtly yet unequivocally terrifying.  It’s a production that must be seen to be believed. Towering, intricate set pieces make you shake your head in wonder as they glide back and forth on stage, and the use of lighting and projection to cast shadows and move scenes forward is astoundingly effective.

Cameron Woodhead and Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen, The Age:  Truth is, Brightman’s long hiatus from musical theatre has diminished her theatrical skills, and vocal stylings that work like a charm in the recording studio don’t always translate well to the stage. Humour, pathos, menace: these are the notes you’ve got to hit as Norma Desmond, an ageing silent film star and classic femme fatale. And if few musical notes are beyond Brightman – who’s renowned for her three-octave range – her vocals here are so operatic, and resort to such heavy vibrato, that you sometimes can’t make out the lyrics.

Paul Cashmere, Noise11: On opening night at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre, I was stunned by the visuals, the sound, the costume and design and the choreography. Never before have I seen an Australian production with all of the ingredients at perfection level. I could simply not fault this show in any way.

Patricia Maunder, Limelight: Brightman’s underwhelming performance on opening night, especially in the first act, was a surprise. Her voice lacked power, her phrasing tended to be limp and diction at times unclear. While Norma should be a monstrous, tragic cartoon, Brightman’s interpretation is wooden.

Alex First, JWire:  Slick choreography from Ashley Wallen and tight direction by Paul Warwick Griffin are other hallmarks of the piece. With a powerful and enduring stage presence, soprano Brightman, who is noted for her wide vocal range, is suitably melodramatic. With perfect diction, her vocalisation is often operatic, a sharp contrast to other cast members who adopt a conventional musical theatre tone. Tim Draxl impresses in his representation of Joe Gillis, a rousing rendition of the title track immediately after interval being among his many highlights.

Paul Selar, Arts Review: Despite looking every bit the glamorously endowed star, disappointingly, Brightman’s performance might be considered memorable for what it misses. Much of the time limited to sweeping the air with swirling gestures – no doubt channelling Salome, the subject of Norma’s hopeless script for a Hollywood comeback – the crazed, psychotic and creepy Norma rarely surfaces and the voice lacks uplift and colour with diction lost in persistent vibrato. 

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