Wednesday, 28 October 2015

"Sunset Boulevard", King's Theatre, Glasgow, 24/10/15

One of the last of Andrew Lloyd Webber's mega-musicals, "Sunset Boulevard" is based on the classic Billy Wilder film that presents the story of Joe Gillis, struggling screenwriter, who happens upon the mansion of Norma Desmond, 'famed star of yesteryear', who has spent the last twenty years of her life reliving her past glories on celluloid whilst cobbling together a screenplay that will mark her 'return' to the fans who, she believes, have never left her. Gillis soon becomes entrenched in Norma's crazed life and she quickly falls in love with him, whilst her ever-present manservant, Max, looks on passively. The tragedy soon reveals itself, however, as reality starts worming its way into Norma's world and her fragile existence starts to unravel.
Lloyd Webber's score is, appropriately, his most cinematic and contains some well-known numbers including 'With One Look' and 'The Perfect Year'.

The nature of the story presents inherent difficulties in staging the celluloid story and is a challenge for any company. Amateur group Glasgow Light Operatic Club should be praised alone for attempting such a demanding production.
In lesser hands the staging could have been an outright disaster but Alasdair Hawthorn is a more than competent director. It's true that not every sequence comes over successfully and that the exposition becomes a little turgid but, for the most part, the plot and staging is fluid and concise and the demanding transitions are handled appropriately.
The musical direction by David R Dunlop is a bit wanting in some areas; there are some numbers which are performed at a slower rate than appropriate whilst others feel a bit rushed. It is also unfortunate that a score orchestrated with strings replaces them with synthesisers thus rendering the score inappropriately synth and brass-heavy. This also has the effect of dulling some of the musical impact and phrases. That said, the musicians present did a great job with some of David Cullen and Lloyd Webber's most moving work.
Choreographer Antony Carter did a fine job in creating enjoyable dance sequences that never seemed to intrude upon the dramatic action
A lot of amateur companies are also guilty of somewhat neglecting lighting but this cannot be said for this production; here it was a considered aspect and an integral part of the whole, delineating space and mood effectively.

The cast rose to the challenge of "Sunset Boulevard" amiably and were led by Ross Nicol as 'Joe Gillis' and Aileen Johnston as 'Norma Desmond' and both held themselves well. Whilst there may have been a few too many moments of 'armography' for my liking, both Nicol and Johnston have a commanding presence with strong vocals to match and Johnston especially has moments where she surpasses herself, none more so than her triumphant return to Paramount Studios with the number, 'As If We Never Said Goodbye'.
Johnathan Procter's 'Max' stood as a pillar of strength epitomising the power of stillness whilst his vocals appropriately echoed the emotional that lay within. His was a most charming and moving performance. Kirsten MacDonald also has moments as 'Betty Schaefer' where she shines and she has a lovely tone to her voice, if only she let it out more confidently as she was a little reserved at times yet clearly has the pipes for the part; a fact in evidence come her duet with Nicol, 'Too Much In Love To Care', where she soars beautifully.
Also worthy of mention are Greg Reid's naive 'Artie Green' and the 'Manfred' of Iain G Condie who provides a wonderfully delivered number replete with comedy and underlying disdain. Director Hawthorn also makes a brief, uncredited, cameo in the appropriate role of 'Cecil B DeMille' adding a sense of reality to proceedings.

Kudos must be given to a company in taking a risk with such a demanding production but, for the most part, a company that succeeds. It is always important that theatre - at whatever level, amateur or professional - takes risks, embraces danger and offers something new to its audience and GLOC have certainly done that.

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