Reviewed by Dotty Winters
Sunset Boulevard isn’t perhaps Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most famous productions, although watching it with fresh eyes it is hard to say why not. This darkly comic story centres on Norma Desmond, an ageing silent movie star who aims to rejuvenate her career with the help of a younger screenwriter. In this production, central performances by Ria Jones (as Norma Desmond) and Strictly Come Dancing’s recent graduate Danny Mac as Joe Gillis are compelling and moving (and both received well deserved standing ovations). Jones’ Desmond is powerful, tragic and sinister in equal measure and she captivates whenever she is on stage. Danny Mac brings surprising depth to the role of Gillis, who, at first intent on manipulation, is swept along in Desmond’s powerful wake. Whilst he acts, sings and, of course, dances brilliantly, Danny Mac still got the strongest reaction from the audience when he stripped off to sing in his pants!
The old-style charm and glamour which imbues this production does nothing to lesson the impact or on-going relevance of its themes: the role of women in entertainment, the unstinting march of progress and the dangerous impact of thwarted ambition. Likewise, the production meshes traditional techniques (an opulent and impressive set, and a live 16-piece orchestra) with some very modern touches (the lighting and projection, in particular are very impressive).
There can be few better venues to reminisce about the golden era of entertainment than the Liverpool Empire. The current theatre has been here since the 20s but there have been entertainment venues on this site for far longer. It is Britain’s largest two-tier auditorium and has been beautifully restored. It’s an impressive venue, perfect for shows on this scale of grandeur. As a minor modern gripe parking nearby can be a bit tricky or expensive, but the theatre is brilliantly served by local transport links, so perhaps a good opportunity to leave the car behind and make the most of the excellent theatre bar? For me, a production this grand deserves to be seen in a properly impressive venue like the Empire.
Despite the darkness of the theme, at its core this retains all the very best of musical theatre: Strong vocal performances, huge set piece numbers, memorable anthems, emotional heft, and plenty of razzle dazzle. I suspect this has plenty to offer both to Lloyd Webber musical devotees and those who aren’t attracted by some of his other productions but will love the darkness, glamour and of Sunset Boulevard.
Tickets cost from £12 to £59.50 (plus £2.85 transaction fee).
Sunset Boulevard is at the Liverpool Empire from 19-24 February 2018, for more information or to book tickets visit www.atgtickets.com/liverpool or call the box office on 0844 8713017.
Liverpool Empire Theatre, Lime Street, Liverpool, Merseyside, L1 1JE | 0844 8713017