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BWW Review: SUNSET BOULEVARD, Royal Albert Hall


The one-night-only concert production starred Mazz Murray and Ramin Karimloo

BWW Review: SUNSET BOULEVARD, Royal Albert Hall

BWW Review: SUNSET BOULEVARD, Royal Albert Hall Jewel-coloured velvet, golden spotlights, rapturous applause, and scandalous affairs. This is the glamorous Hollywood world of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black and Christopher Hampton's Sunset Boulevard. Set against the luxe of the Royal Albert Hall and accompanied by a magnificent 40-piece orchestra, this concert presentation of the musical made for a stunning evening of entertainment.

Based on the iconic film of the same name, Sunset Boulevard follows Joe Gillis (Ramin Karimloo), an out-of-work screenwriter who gets sucked into the twisted showbiz world of former movie star Norma Desmond (Mazz Murray). When Norma asks Joe to help her get her screenplay produced, their lives become dangerously tangled together. Joe finds himself trapped in secrets and lies, and Norma's desperate longing to return to stardom sees her sanity begin to slip away. Produced by The Alpha Family, this concert production of the iconic musical was first staged at Alexandra Palace earlier this year, returning for a one-night-only performance at the Royal Albert Hall.

Murray is spectacular as Norma Desmond. She transitions effortlessly from brash comedy to sharp rage to moments of vulnerability, delivering each and every line with self-assurance and panache. Her soaring voice fills the arena, with a belt that is quite literally showstopping - on multiple occasions, such as after her "As If We Never Said Goodbye", the show halted for mid-act standing ovations.

While Karimloo is given fewer big numbers, he drives the show forward with style and slick vocals, showing why he's become the musical theatre favourite he is. Zizi Strallen as love interest Betty Schaefer has a voice that suits the part perfectly, sweet and clear, in spite of some acting moments that fall flat in the first act. As Max von Mayerling, Jeremy Secomb is a forbidding presence on stage, still but commanding.

Some of the most impressive moments, however, came from the unstoppable combination of the ensemble and the orchestra. The sheer musical power left the full audience awestruck - special credit must go to conductor Alex Parker for bringing together so many singers and musicians with such style and precision.

Much of the magic also came from the lighting. In a show about the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, the possibilities of the Albert Hall were used to their greatest potential as shining spotlights illuminated Murray in gold, white and blue. There were also several moments where the opportunities the venue offers for innovative staging were used to great effect: Murray made many a glamorous entrance down the long staircases, and finished with an Evita-esque balcony appearance for "The Final Scene".

It did feel like the stage could have been used more efficiently at times, however - some ensemble moments were left feeling cluttered, and a few smaller scenes felt overly static. But director Jordan Murphy has some moments of genius: with more consistency of imagination, and with the same level of creativity brought to every scene, this production had the potential to be flawless.

First performed in the early 1990s, the musical's themes of celebrity, authenticity and originality take on a new meaning in 2021. The show takes the 'starving artist' trope to an extreme, asking how willing we are to sacrifice our integrity for money and success. These questions could perhaps have been probed further in this staging, but the show nonetheless feels undeniably pressing and topical.

This production of Sunset Boulevard was a celebration of show business: glamorous costumes, shining spotlights, intrigue, and incredible voices. Its cast of musical theatre stars transported us to Hollywood in a performance that was musically impeccable, brought to life by the power of the orchestra. After a year of small-scale and online theatre, it demonstrated the unique ability of large-venue concert productions to take musical theatre to its greatest heights and showcase the genre at its best.

Sunset Boulevard played for one night only at the Royal Albert Hall on 3 December.

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From This Author Katie Kirkpatrick