Sunset Boulevard is a musical adaptation by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black and Christopher Hampton of the 50s Academy Award winning movie of the same name. The story follows the faded silent movie star Norma Desmond who believes there’s opportunity to stage her return (not comeback!) to the silver screen when she meets screenwriter Joe Gillis by chance.
Norma Desmond and Joe Gillis’ meet cute is as dysfunctional as their relationship would later become. His car breaks down in her Sunset Boulevard mansion’s driveway after a high speed car chase and she mistakes him for her dead monkey’s coffin guy.
Angela Kilian, an old hand at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s plays having also played in Cats and portrayed the title character in Evita, is almost too convincing as Norma Desmond. She appears to tap into the skillset of a silent movie actress by acting 80% of her character through facial expressions. The result is beautiful with a lethal dose of melancholy.
Jonathan Roxmouth plays the opportunistic Joe Gillis. His performance is more subdued than usual which is exactly what his character requires. He steps back as Kilian belts out the larger than life numbers.
Costume designer Penny Simpson sharply manipulates the different silhouettes of the 1950s, ensuring that all the different body types were displayed to their full potential. There is one standout golden dress that is moulded onto Kilian’s body, making her look like a human Oscar statuette. The only costume which lacked construction was the negligée in the final scene which is a slight let down. Everything leading to that point has made me believe that Norma Desmond is so self-obsessed that there won’t be a single thing in her closet that doesn’t look fabulous on her, that even when she randomly grabs things out of her closet they will at the very least fit her well.
I can easily see Sunset Boulevard set in current times (I can only pray for a hip hop opera adaptation) as it’s a story that will play out in every generation as technology changes the entertainment industry and the public’s mind-set along with it. A silent film star that had been side-lined by sound in films paralleled with the diva of the jazz era who can’t keep up with Rihanna’s 10,801,626 subscribers (and 4,299,691,634 views) on YouTube.
Old Hollywood is incorporated through old footage of the time, including black and white films, projected on a large lace curtain. This allows the stage to seamlessly transform into a mansion, high speed car chase, diner and movie set in a matter of seconds. The furniture and props are changed by members of the ensemble adding to the feel of a movie set.
Sunset Boulevard is not the play to take your children this holiday period. It is a dark and twisted musical. Not necessarily a feel-good story, yet seeing a top class cast perform it beautifully on stage does leave one with a happy heart.
Sunset Boulevard runs at Theatre on the Bay from 28 October 2013 – 4 January 2014.