BWW Review: SUNSET BOULEVARD, Edinburgh Playhouse
A murder and a major movie star: the media are in frenzy. What happened and why? Sunset Boulevard is the tale of aspiring writer Joe Gillis, who falls into the life of former silver screen siren Norma Desmond. Once in her web, there is no surrender. The audience watches rapt as this twisted love story unravels and burns out like an old film reel.
Ria Jones knows the role of Norma Desmond inside out. Having originated the part in the first staging of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, she returned last year as standby for Glenn Close at the London Coliseum - earning great acclaim when she wound up doing several performances.
It's as if she never said goodbye to the role, taking it on once again with flair and fanfare. With one note her voice fills the theatre like the star she portrays, and she captures the limelight throughout. However she's almost too polished, making it hard to believe that this Norma could be clueless to the smoke and mirrors that surround her.
Danny Mac is the "star casting" in terms of household name. But unlike in some touring productions, he is worth so much more than just a name on a poster. He's a perfect example of someone whose fame has elevated them to the place they were destined to be, his theatrical training and previous West End experience out-sparkling his Strictly reputation.
With confidence, believability and pizzazz, Mac makes you invest in what is a rather bumptiousness character. Joe's narration makes for a demanding role, which Mac handles with gusto. The only minor flaw is slight disbelief that Joe is already jaded by the industry and dispirited by the bright-eyed Betty, when he looks the picture of youth.
Molly Lynch plays Betty with great heart - despite it being a role with a limited story arc, which never delves too deep into backstory. Adam Pearce as Max von Mayerling is wonderfully truthful in his portrayal of a secretly flawed and obsessed human. And his booming voice is both sinister and sensational.
Nikolai Foster's large ensemble cast is stellar, brimming with talent. The nature of the show places spotlight on the four leads, leaving the rest with moments to sparkle but little room to outshine.
No expense has been spared on Colin Richmond's costumes and ingenious sets, gleaming with glamour and grandeur - as if Norma herself had foot the bill. Ben Cracknell's strategic lighting creates high drama and anticipation, but means the actors are sometimes hard to make out.
Film clips sweep in and out of the stage with stunning effect. However, the use of screens instead of backdrops occasionally jars due to the crisp, modern footage used.
The high-standard live orchestration is a highlight. Many moments of Lloyd Webber's score have familiar melodic echoes of his other productions, especially Phantom of the Opera. His signature is clear throughout, playing directly to the thespian heart, and the classic story is brought vividly to life in this excellent touring production, which captures the seductive Hollywood allure.
Sunset Boulevard at Edinburgh Playhouse until the 7 October, then continues on tour
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan