Saturday, October 11, 2014

SUNSET BOULEVARD

Norma Desmond (Bronwyn Sullivan) and Max von Mayerling (Peter Dark)
Photo: Lauren Sadow

Director: Stephen Pike
Musical Director: Sharon Tree
Presented by: Queanbeyan City Council
The Q – Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre until 25th October.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

This production by the Queanbeyan City Council provides a welcome opportunity to experience one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s more rarely staged musicals.  Exploring the relationship between an ageing silent-movie star teetering on the edge of insanity, and an ambitious young writer, this intriguing, gothic musical presents significant staging challenges, not all of which have been overcome with this production, however, there is still much to enjoy.

Focussing on the characters rather than the spectacle, director Stephen Pike has assembled a strong cast headed by Bronwyn Sullivan as the troubled movie star, Norma Desmond. Sullivan gives a vocally and physically striking performance, particularly in the closing scenes as she descends into madness.

As her young lover, Joe Gillis, Daniel Wells impresses with his excellent singing but could afford to bring more intensity to his characterisation. Peter Dark successfully captures the brooding austereness of Norma’s mysterious butler, Max von Mayerling and Vanessa De Jager is outstanding as Joe’s well-meaning girlfriend Betty Schaefer.

Brian Sudding’s fastidiously detailed, montage setting represents the various locations, including Norma Desmond’s decaying mansion on Sunset Boulevard, a sound stage during the filming of a Cecil B. DeMille epic and various offices and bars around 1949 Hollywood.

However, though visually attractive, this setting is not without its own problems. Among them cramped acting spaces, and the necessity to reduce Norma Desmond’s staircase to just a few steps, robbing her of her all-important entrances and exits.  A curious decision to position the conductor of the excellent on-stage orchestra, immediately behind the actors, also provided an unwelcome distraction, which destroyed the dramatic impact of several scenes.

 This review published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on Fri. Oct.9. An edited version will appear in the print editon on Wednesday Oct. 15.

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