This week sees Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony® award-winning musical Sunset Boulevard bring the glamour and sophistication of the silver screen to the Hippodrome stage from Mon 13 – Sat 18 Nov.
Starring West End leading lady Ria Jones as faded screen icon Norma Desmond and West End and television star Danny Mac as disillusioned love interest Joe Gillis, Sunset Boulevard is a compelling tale of unrequited love, loneliness and searing ambition which pays homage to the golden age of Hollywood cinema.
To celebrate the show’s arrival in Southside, stars of the show Ria and Danny, took time away from their busy performance schedule to discover more about Birmingham’s own historic links to the silver screen with a stop-off at much-loved local landmark, The Electric Cinema, famously the oldest working cinema in the UK today.
First opened in 1909, The Electric Cinema Birmingham showed its first silent film on 27 December of that year, thus pre-dating its name-sake The Electric Cinema in Notting Hill, by two months. As the first picture house of its kind in the UK, The Electric Cinema began its 107 year history playing silent films with piano backing – these were mostly American and mostly short, just one or two reels in length.
In 1920, the cinema was bought out and underwent the first of many name changes, becoming known as The Select. After continuing to show silent movies during the 1920s, the cinema added sound in 1930, and the first film shown was from the popular detective series Bulldog Drummond. The building underwent a major transformation in the 1930s with an art deco makeover designed by Cecil Filmore, a style popularised by Birmingham architect Harry Weedon.
Based on Billy Wilder’s iconic film-noir of the same name, Sunset Boulevard tells the story of silent-screen goddess, Norma Desmond, who lives in a fantasy world of her own making. Impoverished screen writer, Joe Gillis, on the run from debt collectors, stumbles into her reclusive world. Persuaded to work on Norma’s ‘masterpiece’, a film script that she believes will put her back in front of the cameras, he is seduced by her and her luxurious life-style. Joe becomes entrapped in her claustrophobic world until his love for another woman leads him to try and break free with dramatic consequences.
Over its celebrated 118 year history, Birmingham Hippodrome has itself played host to some of Hollywood’s brightest stars including American comedy duo Laurel and Hardy, who appeared at the theatre three times between 1947 and 1952, Hollywood screen siren Marlene Dietrich who appeared in Berlin cabaret in the 1920s and later shot to international fame in the 1930 film “The Blue Angel”, child protégé and star of the 1939 blockbuster The Wizard of Oz Judy Garland, and American singer, actor, and producer Frank Sinatra.
Sunset Boulevard runs until Sat 18 Nov at Birmingham Hippodrome. For tickets, call 0844 338 5000 or visit www.birminghamhippodrome.com