SUNSET BOULEVARD by Esna Players
Loughborough Town Hall.
The musicals of Lord Lloyd-Webber can be like a bag of Revels. Sometimes you'll get a chocolate one, a toffee one, a honeycomb one. But then again you may get an orange or coffee one. What I'm trying to say is that his musicals can be inconsistent. "Sunset Boulevard" is definitely a chocolate one for me. A classic start, middle and end musical with plenty of glamour, glitz with romance, jealousy and murder thrown in.
Based on the Billy Wilder film of the same name, it's about an ageing, eccentric and faded Hollywood star, Norma Desmond, who, quite by accident sees her way back to the limelight through a young, good looking screen writer, Joe Gillis, who just happens to drive his car into her driveway to escape the pair who are looking to repossess his car. Short of money and seeing that doing what Norma wants, he sees a chance to make it big and strike it rich, but when Norma gets possessive and discovers Joe's squeeze, Betty Schaefer, she decides that if she can't have him....no one can!
The musical starts off with a cinematic introduction and in the style of the classic black and white movies of the day, we see who the actors are in name form, setting the scene and mood wonderfully.
Ashley Bright, plays Gillis, the good looking screen-writer who has a voice just made for musical theatre. A rich timbre making him very easy to listen to and while there were some parts which became just slightly drowned by the live orchestra, he told the story in song with ease and passion.
Cat Orton played Joe's co screen-writer and object of his affection. They started off on the wrong foot, which means that they were destined to become "close" in the world of musicals. All four main roles were strong of voice and Cat has a lovely controlled vocal technique. Easy on the eye and ear.
Norma's man servant, and first husband and director Max Van Mayerling,(Jonathan Penton), protective to the last, shielding his ex wife from anything that may cause upset to the frail and eccentric Norma. That included trying to control Joe to make him do Norma's bidding. Jonathan has a voice I could listen to all night, a wonderful richness that pours like liquid chocolate from his mouth. A wonderful choice of casting, as are all of these roles tonight.
And finally, the "Greatest Star Of Them All", Norma Desmond. Eccentric, glamorous, bossy, crazy, pitiful, controlling, yes all of the above and I imagine an absolute dream of a role to play. Liz Berrisford was just amazing in this role and she controlled that stage every single minute she was on it. And what a voice!! Again another wonderful voice I would not tire of listening to. I've heard Glenn Close sing "With One Look" and "This Perfect Year" as Desmond but Close's versions were not a patch on Liz's renditions, the first round of applause went to "Look" and deservedly so.
There are several classic musical pieces here, the title track, "As If We Never Said Goodbye", "The Perfect Year' and "With One Look" all outstanding commercial songs. Several other songs sound like Lloyd-Webber may have run out of musical ideas and borrowed from "Phantom" and "Superstar".
The scenes were vibrant and exuberant and fitting with Norma's extravagant lifestyle, a great film set setting and with the interspersed cinematic sections the action moved well. Lovely props and costumes, which as you can imagine were also very glamorous, the male costumes also very smart, even in casual mode.
Apart from the odd microphone blips, sound wise it was almost faultless, only occasionally did we lose out with the lyrics of the pieces by the orchestra. Neither of these minor items detracted from this wonderful musical. Talking of the orchestra and the arrangements, they were lush and full bodied, like a rich, fruity wine, brought to blossom and fruition by musical director, Jon Orton.The musical pieces were almost non stop throughout which gave hardly any breathing space for the 24 strong orchestra, sounding beautiful throughout.
All in all this is one of Lloyd-Webber's better, and possibly lesser known works but most definitely one to go and see. Stick through the sometimes disjointed first half for the second part, and you will not be disappointed with the Esna Players latest success. Great songs, brilliant acting from not just the four leads but for the whole, large ensemble, who by the way sounded immense when together. Classy sets and a wonderful orchestral backing combine to give you a trip back in time to another, more decadent time.
"Sunset Boulevard" is on at Loughborough Town Hall until Saturday 5 September 2015.