It is 68 years since Sunset Boulevard hit cinema screens. For a story that deals so brutally with the ravages of age and fading beauty, there is a certain irony that it remains as fresh and arresting today as it was in 1950.
Fans of the film as well as newcomers to the story will not be disappointed by this compelling production.
Perhaps we should not be surprised that the story still resonates; the characters it created have become an essential part of how we view the pitfalls of celebrity.
Norma Desmond (played by the excellent Ria Jones), is an ageing star of the silent movies who has retreated into her palatial mansion on Sunset Boulevard.
She lives with her devoted butler, plotting a return to glories past. Joe Gillis (played with wonderfully suave charm by Danny Mac) is a struggling screen writer on the run from creditors who winds up by accident at Desmond’s mansion and is drawn into her schemes.
What makes the Sunset Boulevard concept so great is the way it lures you into the very world it is so cruelly pulliing apart. Just like Joe Gillis, we are unable to tear ourselves away from the pleasures of Desmond’s world.
When Danny Mac appears in his swimming costume after the interval we know that he has sold himself out to Desmond’s crazy schemes but, at the same time, one can’t help but swoon in admiration at his beautifully toned body.
The irresistible glamour is only heightened by Lloyd-Webber’s luscious score that subtly echoes Franz Waxman’s Oscar-winning film score and includes some great tunes too.
I must confess to having enjoyed Dina Carroll’s version of “The Perfect Year” many times without realising that it is Norma Desmond who first sang it.
Special mention must also go to Adam Pearce who plays Norma Desmond’s devoted butler Max von Meyerling. The wonderful contrast between his booming baritone and delicate falsetto enable him to depict both sinister obsession as well as deep devotion.
And there is humour here, too, in the contrast between von Mayerling’s European-accented intensity and Gillis’ quintessentially American breeziness.
When Gillis quips that the New Year’s Party at Desmond’s mansion reminds him of gala night on the SS Titanic, the humourous effect is heightened by von Mayerling’s dead-pan refusal to acknowledge the remark – “Would you rather I mix for you a dry martini. Or shall I open the champagne”.
And on that note, I’d recommend you order yourself an interval martini and allow yourself to be lured into the intoxicating glamour. At the end of the show I couldn’t help but join the many others who had risen to their feet to applaud a truly wonderful show.
Crack open the bubbly and enjoy this masterpiece