Review: Sunset Boulevard in concert. Curve Leicester

After the current 2020 Covid 19 pandemic forced the Curve theatre in Leicester to film the Sunset Boulevard concert without a live audience, Curve’s resilient artistic director Nikolai Foster said, “This will be no ordinary concert. At Curve we either go big or go home.” Hardy to the end, Curve have definitely gone bigger than big and have expanded their production to take in the entire auditoria (main theatre and studio) and beyond. The empty seats are a poignant reminder of our challenging times in the world of theatre and the world in general but despite an absence of a live audience that vision of empty seats also offers creative opportunities for artistic and visual expression.

This Made at Curve Sunset Boulevard is as sexy, as grand and as luxuriously sumptuous as it can get. And then more. It has great pace and danger and a touch of romance. Curve’s Sunset Boulevard in concert is a totally captivating concert performance; directed and recorded with great skill and love and streamed for us all to enjoy in the comfort of our homes. Not just the UK but around the world.  You could say that it is made with massive love ‘for all those people out there in the dark’.

This extra-ordinary piece is both stunning musical theatre and a gloriously cinematic work of theatrical art enhanced by the filming work of Cross Cut Media and the projection artistry of Douglas 0’Connell. Ben Cracknell’s highly impressive lighting design is paramount to the moods of the piece and Tom Marshall’s sound is pin sharp throughout allowing the vocals to balance in precise harmony with the orchestra. Combined with Nikolai Foster’s cleverly and quickly revised vision for the show, are the terrific talents of its sixteen returning players from 2017/18 and the faultless musical exuberance of Stephen Hill’s sixteen-piece orchestra.

The lush intoxicating orchestrations and score of Andrew Lloyd Webber and David Cullen’s masterpiece, united with the street-smart book and lyrics of Don Black and Christopher Hampton are universally adored. They continue to seduce in this dramatic 1940s story of penniless Hollywood writer Joe Gillis (Danny Mac) and his fateful meeting with the fading old style silent film star Norma Desmond (Ria Jones). This story is one centred on a cruel, illusory, Hollywood dream factory where cinematic dreams are made and, as if on a whim, then cruelly shattered. All life in this story is about aspirations, love, hustle and false hopes and gigantic yet often dangerously fragile egos. The insincere lyrics “We should talk, gotta run, let’s have lunch” say it all really.

The terrific actress Ria Jones returns to Curve as the obsessively twisted semi-reclusive former film star Norma Desmond. She is nothing short of beguiling, very compelling and breaks your heart with her performance and superb singing voice. Jones as Desmond is brilliantly reigned in as a performer working close up with the cameras. However, when she lets rip in the more powerful numbers, we are thoroughly blown away by the artistry, the high passion and the vocals.

Danny Mac is splendidly and subtly louche as, down on his luck, writer Joe Gillis. Mac is a master at commanding the stage (and screen it seems) with his vital, yet understated, presence as Gillis. His handsome easy singing style floats through us like a natural extension of his breathing, seemingly effortless. His dark rendition of ‘Sunset Boulevard’ at the start of the second act is breathtakingly good and betrays a real turning point in the character’s ambitions and calculating outlook. Both Jones and Mac are super magnetic in their roles and worth the price of an online viewing ticket alone.

In this 360 degree re-configured version of Sunset, Nikolai Foster has made ingenious usage of some of the spaces on, in and around the revolving central stage. One of the best scenes is set up in the cramped theatrically industrial space of the flies above the stage. Here the superbly voiced Adam Pearce (Max) sings the ‘Greatest Star of All’ expressing his love and unfaltering protection towards Norma Desmond. Pearce’s performance is commanding in all meanings of the word. What a voice!

Molly Lynch as Betty Schaefer shines throughout the piece and in particular during ‘Girl Meets Boy’ and ‘Too Much In Love To Care’. Her romantic chemistry with Danny Mac is touching and their tentative approaches towards each other are actually enhanced by the Covid safe staging. Who would have imagined such words appearing in a review?

This dreamy ‘New Ways To Dream’ production makes full dramatic use of the socially distanced layout of the main house seating arrangements. Placing the talented ensemble members in some of the empty seats for the Schwab drugstore scene and New Year’s Eve Party and then multi-framing the song cinematically for ‘This Time Next Year’ really blasts home a feeling of optimism and hope that we profoundly wish to be true this time next year (or a darn sight earlier) as we hope to sit in a full house watching a Curve show .

For theatre lovers worldwide, Curve’s Sunset Boulevard in concert is a perfect joyous end to an imperfect year.

Sunset Boulevard (at home) plays online until Saturday 9th January. Book now.

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