Last year I lucky enough to see the legendary actress Glenn Close in a semi-staged version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard. Only the week before I had tickets, Glenn had to miss a few performances, with her understudy Ria Jones stepping into the title role of Norman Desmond, to amazing reviews. Part of me was relieved that I actually did get to see movie icon Glenn Close, but I was also slightly disappointed and also curious to see Ria Jones in the role. So, I was delighted to hear that a fully staged tour of the musical was coming to Birmingham Hippodrome, with Ria rightfully talking the lead. It was well worth the wait, Ria totally became the part of the once famous Hollywood star Norma Desmond, whose golden age has now been left behind, along with the silent movies that made her famous. She genuinely believes she IS big (it’s the pictures that got smaller) and I believe her.
I think this is one of Lloyd Webber’s greatest musicals, with almost every song feeling like a showstopper. The title number “Sunset Boulevard”, and “With One Look” have all the feel of a Hollywood drama, while “Perfect Year” is the delicate yet glamorous love song. Then, from her slightly erratic and totally diva entrance, Ria’s vulnerable Norma comes out with “As If We Never Said Goodbye”. You can feel her excitement and emotion as she steps back onto a movie set, believing this is her big return, but we know even darker times are yet to come.
Last year’s Strictly Come Dancing finalist Danny Mac (who’ll be back to do panto this Christmas) plays Norma’s love interest Joe, although his feeling might not be mutual. Danny plays a down on his luck writer who happens to stumble into Norma’s mansion, and into her life. Hardly ever off stage, Danny is a joy to watch, and in act 2 he’s down to just his boxers!
With the cinematic score comes a grand and cinematic set, based to look like you’re on a movie sound stage, with scenes changing like a moving movie set, including an elaborate staircase. A full and talented cast also includes Molly Lynch as Betty, and the wonderful butler with a secret Max (Adam Pearce). With some great production numbers, this has all the glamour and grandiose that a musical set in the golden ear of Hollywood deserves.