CREAGH/CARR REVIEW: Sunset Boulevard, MK Theatre

Ria Jones as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard
Ria Jones as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard

The Creagh/Carr Review gives you two bites of the cherry – the opinions of seasoned hackette Bev Creagh and flamboyant young newshound Stewart Carr. Here they talk about Sunset Boulevard, at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday December 2.

CREAGH SAYS ... Sunset Boulevard is the iconic story of fading silent movie star Norma Desmond – originally played by Gloria Swanson in the 1950 Billy Wilder movie and most recently reprised in the West End by Glenn Close.

Aspiring script writer Joe Gillis stumbles into her world when he’s escaping his creditors and she sees him as a conduit to returning to her former glory.

With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and an exceptionally talented cast – including Strictly star Danny Mac as the hapless Joe – this should be a stunning production.

Ria Jones in the leading role has a formidable CV and a powerful voice, but somehow fails to capture the essentially ethereal and vulnerable side of Norma. She’s chunky and in your face and you don’t really get how Joe can be seduced by her – in spite of her one-time glamour and connections – when he’s clearly in love with movie script reader Betty Schaeffer, a delightfully ingenue performance from Molly Lynch.

Adam Pearce as Norma’s chauffeur (subsequently unveiled as her husband Max Von Meyerling – the man who discovered her as a teenage starlet and propelled her to stardom) is another strong character who almost steals the show with his surprisingly rich voice.

Having a live orchestra is always a bonus and musical director Adrian Kirk’s 16-strong team certainly add to the sense of occasion, as does the set – no production of Sunset Boulevard would be complete without a fabulous staircase and this is no exception.

Of course it all ends in tears, the deluded Norma shooting Joe when he tells her she’s finished, her fan letters are all written by the devoted Max and Cecil B de Mille is really not interested in her return.

I remained curiously unmoved by her meltdown, yet Ria Jones was given a standing ovation by the first night audience.

Go see for yourself – it’s certainly great entertainment and a window on a world that’s increasingly in the spotlight, thanks to Harvey Weinstein and co.

CARR SAYS ... A mainstay of broadway – with one of the most coveted leading roles among actresses – Sunset Boulevard is as steeped in legend as the long-lost movie star whose story it unfolds.

And with expectations that high, the show doesn’t fail to deliver the goods ... for the most part.

Danny Mac shines as the down-on-his-luck, Hollywood playwright Joe Gillis, literally begging for work from studios. It’s while on the run from creditors that he ends up landing at a creepy mansion tucked away on Sunset Boulevard - the home of legendary silent movie actress Norma Desmond.

I was a bit disappointed the lead role. Ria Jones’s robust eccentric is more like Liza Minelli than it is the haunting Norma Desmond - a part imbued with mystique and vulnerability. While Jones has a booming singing voice, there’s not enough coquetry in the delivery of her lines and it’s not until the very end, when the plot necessitates it, that we get a good, hefty dose of craziness.

But the main requirements are there, gorgeous sets and costumes, powerful performances from Danny Mac and Adam Pearce as butler Max, and a strong ensemble of all-singing, all-dancing supporting cast - representing the ocean of fame-hungry unknowns in Hollywood destined for obscurity.

Whatever my barbs, the crowd loved it and gave it one of the many standing ovations it has enjoyed during its run.

Sunset Boulevard plays at MK Theatre until Saturday, December 2. See here for tickets.