Top 5 Moments in Sunset Boulevard
I am very late to the Sunset Boulevard party, having only seen it on the 3rd January. With the show closing in London on the 6th January it seems pintless adding yet another 5 star review to the mound but I couldn’t let the moment pass without writing something. So here are my top 5 moments/favourite things in/about the show…and it contains spoilers!!!
1.Nicole Scherzinger’s vocals.
Allow me to elaborate as clearly anyone singing the role of Norma Desmond is going to need a good voice. Scherzinger’s voice is beyond ‘good.’ Her version of With One Look nearly brought the roof down and applause went on for an age after the final note. Her phrase ‘home at last’ was phenomenal with ‘home’ being held for an inordinately long time and ‘at last’ following in the same breath. The same applies to her vocals in ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye.’ Where do we start the petition for the cast recording?
2. The Camera Work
I adored the camera work in this production and sat just the right side of theatrical without feeling like I may as well have just gone to the cinema. The video design and cinematography by Nathan Amzi and Joe Ransom deserves huge plaudits. It allowed the audience to focus on what may not always be going on stage in front of them at that point but the impact of that moment, Artie’s single tear during Joe and Betty’s kiss was a prime example of this.
Equally there is no doubt that Nicole Scherzinger is a beautiful woman but the close up camera work combined with clever lighting and Scherzinger’s unflinching commitment to the part managed to make her look deranged and the moments where Scherzinger’s face is interspersed with a young Norma (played by Hannah Yun Chamberlain) is like a work of art.
The use of cinematography ties in well with the idea that Norma is a fading movie star and that they are in LA where everyone is trying to get their close up. When discussing the camera work this is probably a good moment to discuss THAT opening to Act 2. Seeing Tom Francis singing live on the street outside the theatre was a real thrill and very meta as he stood in front of the Sunset Boulevard sign outside the theatre. That sequence must have taken a huge amount of rehearsal to ensure that he arrives on stage at just the right moment.
3. The Casting
This is is now the 4th different version I have seen of Sunset Boulevard and previously I have never really understood the dynamic between Norma and Joe but for me this version of the show clicked the pieces together perfectly. When the cast was first announced many people, myself included, wondered how Nicole Scherzinger was ever going to be able to portray a washed up movie star when her looks were far from fading. However that was part of the magic that whilst she was still beautiful outwardly her psyche didn’t match it. It however meant that it was easy to see how Joe ended up entwined in her life.
I have already waxed lyrical about Nicole Scherzinger’s vocals but everything about the whole casts performance was sublime. Tom Francis as Joe was brilliant, he was barely off stage and yet he captured the mood of the piece perfectly. Grace Hodgett Young made her West End debut as Betty Schaefer and her interpretation was fresh and made a lot of sense in the context of this version. She saw through Joe easily and came across as career driven rather than naive and a bit wet as I have seen in previous productions. Hodgett Young is not only transferring with this production to Broadway but she is also starring in Hadestown. For someone who has just made their West End debut those of us that saw her in this role will likely to be able to claim bragging rights of seeing her first!! David Thaxton as Max Von Mayerling provides the perfect eerie stillness to contrast to Scherzinger’s Desmond and the ensemble really elevated the show to an unmissable piece of theatre.
4. The Choreography
Typically when thinking of Sunset Boulevard the choreography would not be an element that springs to mind but from the very first moments of the show the choreography is memorable. Fabian Aloise, in keeping with the rest of the show design has taken bold choices. ‘Let’s Do Lunch,’ is full of lines and sharp movements and ‘This Time Next Year’ by contrast oozes fluidity with Joe never quite being part of it. The dance choices are contemporary and often modern but never feel like they pull focus away from Norma and Joe. This is also the first time that I have seen a Norma Desmond dance, Scherzinger at one point drops into the splits as she sings and at other points joins her younger self in dream like lyrical movement.
5. The Lighting
The whole production is monochrome, from the costumes to the set and the lighting adds to this perfectly. This begins from the moment you enter the auditorium with a darkened feeling. Sunset Boulevard’s lighting designer, Jack Knowles cleverly uses a contrast of darkness, brilliant white light and a more naturalistic state for moments outside of the Desmond household. The lighting also creates shadows that are heightened by the camera angles,a show where the technology has come together seamlessly.
This concept of dark and light is brought to the fore in the final few moments of the show when the auditorium is plunged into pitch black (even the fire exit signs are turned off) as the audience simply hear screams and 2 or 3 brilliant flashes of light as we see Joe covered in blood then finally Norma stood alone.
I think it is suffice to say that this is one of the most exciting pieces of theatre I have seen, whilst the source material may not be my favourite show ever this production, directed by Jamie Lloyd will take a lot of beating. The choices made within the show are always bold and brave and these choices are ones that have paid off to make a top class piece of theatre.
To find out more about the Jamie Lloyd company you can visit their website.