Theatre review - Sunset Boulevard, The Palace Theatre Manchester

Ria Jones as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard

Ria Jones as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard - Credit: Archant

Sunset Boulevard; pure professionalism delivers solid entertainment… and a tear or two. Kate Houghton writes.

Danny Mac (and his abs) as Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard

Danny Mac (and his abs) as Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard - Credit: Archant

I have a confession: I have never seen the movie Sunset Boulevard, so other than knowing it had something to do with a faded Hollywood star, I was entirely in the dark about what to expect at last night’s opening show of Sunset Boulevard at The Palace Theatre, Manchester.

Happily it was a marvellous revelation: the storyline is a melancholy one, but the delivery is utterly uplifting.

Based on the film, released in 1950, about silent movie star Norma Desmond, this musical version by Andrew Lloyd Webber was first presented in 1991 and is a classic example of the A L-W style – lots and lots of singing and not so much of the dialogue. This can get exhausting (well, it can for me anyway) and when our lead male character, out-of-work screenwriter Joe Gillis (played by Danny Mac) opened the show with a song that is not much more than prose set to music my heart sank a little. I soon relaxed however, it’s well done and there is enough dialogue to keep the story moving along just fine.

Today, with so much to see in theatre that is simply incredible, any musical needs to step up its game to keep its audiences, no matter how rave its previous reviews.

Ria Jones makes an entrance as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard

Ria Jones makes an entrance as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard - Credit: Archant

This is just what this touring version does; every role, no matter how small, is delivered with such energy and commitment that the whole show is lifted beyond anything its storyline or music alone could deliver.

Danny Mac, an almost impossibly handsome man, has stepped into the role of unemployed, sick-to-death of Hollywood’s shallow façade, Joe Gillis. He is on stage almost every moment of the show, and singing for much of that time. This is a huge demand and he carries it with ease. He is possibly the perfect casting for this role, as it is quite possible to understand why both an aging forgotten movie star and a 22-year old would-be screenwriter fall for his charms when he manages to combine vulnerability, humour and a dash of devil-may-care with a smile that could bring the birds from the trees. His abs aren’t too shabby either.

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Norma Desmond is however the undoubted star of the show. Played by Ria Jones, who was understudy to Glenn Close during her West End run with the show, plays the role with utter conviction and a voice to raise the roof. Her fragility, her self-deception and her desperation all come through in both her words, her actions and her songs and, in a role that would be all too easy to take a step into melodrama, Jones delivers pure pathos, before she breaks our hearts in the closing scenes.

The sheer brilliance of each actor, allied with a clever set and the marvellous music of a live orchestra (it really does make a difference) means that the West End came to Manchester last night and, judging by the audience’s reaction last night, boy, has it set the bar high.