Great to see how a wonderful musical can be made cheap :)
Fantastic actors who play while they are acting.
Kathryn Evans has a great voice! - Morten Aagaard
11 May 11
My second time to see this fantastic production. Kathryn Evans was off but still the show was good as the first time I saw it at the preview. - Rose glasses
29 Mar 09
A return visit to Sunset Boulevard to be greeted with the news that Kathryn Evans was indisposed. The part of faded film star Norma Desmond was played by faded TV comic Jessica Martin. She had little of the required demented grandeur or sufficient vocal power and 'Just One Look' was a major disappointment. A half-time pep talk must have done the trick as she was much more confident in the second half. Despite this disappointment this is a wonderful production of Sunset thanks to brilliant staging and adaptation of the score and the astonishing abilities of the young multi-talented cast of actor musicians. - David Baxter
26 Mar 09
THE FIRST HOUR IS BORING, THERE IS ONE FANTASTIC SONG AND THE LAST FIVE MINS ARE GOOD BUT I HAVE TO SAY I ACTUALLY HATED IT, IT IS VERY DEPRESSING, I HAD NO SYMPATHY FOR NORMA I DETESTED HER, WAS I SUPPOSED TO FEEL LIKE THAT???? I WISH I HAD SAVED MY 65 POUNDS AND SEEN SOMETHING THAT MOVED ME IN A GOOD WAY. I DID HOWEVER LIKE THE FACT THAT IT WAS SMALL AND COSY AND CHEAP ITS JUST THAT NORMA WAS SO HORRIBLE SHE MADE ME FEEL SICK. - KIM
22 Mar 09
I have seen many musicals over the years but Saturdays performance of Sunset Boulevard stands out as one of the best. It takes a while to get into but as soon as you are in the zone it is a true knockout!! Kathryn Evans performance of the big numbers are worth the ticket price alone!! The rest of the cast are superb and easily one of if not the most talented cast in the west end at the moment. Days later I am still thinking about it and raving about it to my friends. I sugguest anyone to book it now!! My only regret is that I haven't seen it sooner and may now not get to see it again!! - Steve
18 Mar 09
There hardly seems any point to posting a comment as so much has been said already and in particular by Johnny Fox, whose contribution could be turned into a paperback! It isn't a great show, but it does have a great subject in Billy Wilder's wonderful film. There have been rumours that Sondheim was considering making a musical out of it before Lloyd Webber got to it first. What a pity, I am convinced Sondheim would have made something truly wonderful out of it. As it is it has three show stoppers and a helluva lot of stuff sung though. I have to say I find that tedious. But I had no problem with the scaled down version and Kathryn Evans gives a terrific performance as Norma and is ably supported by Dave Willetts as a brooding Max. I saw the understudy play Joe this time, he was OK, Ben Goddard, whom I saw at Newbury, not only looked better but performed more convincingly. If you go with an open mind, a few drinks inside you and some camp friends you'll love it. - rds
11 Mar 09
Absolutely wonderful. Kathryn Evans (Norma) played the part to perfection. Also loved Dave Willetts (Max) who put in an excellant performance as always. Another performer who really stood out for me was Laura Pitt-Pulford (Betty). The small set and limited scenery did not detract from a throughourly gripping show. Still can't beleive that the cast were also talented enough to play their own instruments; hence completely doing away with the orchestra, FABULOUS. - CATH
11 Mar 09
ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS ! And that's coming from an total fan of the original lavish West End version. This was fantastic, although in all honesty it did take me a good 20 minutes or so to get into small stage, smaller budget mode, and stop subconsciouslly comparing it to the 90's production. However, once I did I get thoroughly drawn into it and was tapping my feet, and loving every minute of it. I was fascinated by the way the actors sang, danced, acted and played instruments (there is no orchestra) as they whizzed around the stage. Joe and Norma were superb in their roles, but star of the show for me was the lass playing Betty Schaefer, she had a lovely lovely voice. The only weak link for me was Manfred, who was far too feeble in both voice and stage appearance. I would uge anyone who has not seen the original show to see this, anyone who loved the original to do so also, but try as quickly as possible to get out of comparison mode. One criticism of the night, the music was so loud (we were dress circle) that on many occasion it drowned out the singing, but this did imrove as the show went on. This is important as it is the singing that tells the story.
OVERALL: FANTASTIC :-) - Tom Murray
19 Feb 09
All I really want from a musical in the west end is carbon copy of a lot of tired, dated ideas from all the past shows I've ever seen, and, as long Elaine Paige is in it, I'm happy. Never mind putting a new twist on things, never mind actor/musicians displaying more talent in their little fingers than most of the tired old hams I prefer. I don't want art, or orginality, give me lard. - theatre sad
09 Feb 09
Having listened to the whole soundtrack on CD and seen the movie I was looking forward to this. I sat in stalls, row n4 mat' of wed 28th jan 09. Would loved to have seen this when it was "big", it is the staging that has gotten small! (sorry, couldn't resist that!) At first I thought, what are all the actors doing with instruments? Then it became apparent. I thought the entire cast were very talented and it was all very well acted and some great voices. Ben really threw himself into the part and Kathryn portrayed Norma very well. Have not seen Dave Willets before and loved his voice. I thoroughly enjoyed the show and gave a standing ovation at the end, and would see it again, BUT thankfully I only paid £35.00 and would have been EXTREMELY miffed if I had paid more. It reminded me of an upper class soiree in someone's back room! You know, when the "musical" members of the family come round for Christmas and do a little "turn". Really hope, one day I'll be able to see the proper version. - Dave Woolrich
30 Jan 09
I wanted to like this revival and was looking forward to seeing Sunset back in the West End but things certainly are not what they used to be. Whereas, Trevor Nunn's original was a gothic spectacular with beaded gowns, flamboyant capes and turbans, huge mansions, swimming pools and the longest staircase this side of Hello, Dolly!, this cheap and tacky revival is just not in the same league. Moreover, Kathryn Evans, a very good actress, is not big enough for Norma Desmond. Elaine Paige was the best Norma with Petula Clark and Patti LuPone close behind because they all have an abundance of star quality. Evans lacks the bizarre eccentricity and camp divadom that the role demands. I am also getting very tired of the cast playing musical instruments at the drop of a curlicue. However, the score is still great and Ben Goddard an exciting new talent. Just a pity that they are charging West End prices for a bargain-basement production that would be better suited to an upstairs of a pub. Come back Rita Moreno - all is forgiven! - DJ
30 Jan 09
Went on Saturday night with some friends. Not sure what to expect given the totally mixed reviews of love it or hate it. Well I simply loved its individuality. Talented actors playing instruments and singing get my vote everytime. Kathryn's rendition of As If We Never Said Goodbye brought tears to my eyes and the complete standing ovation at the end says it all. Off to book the show again with a group and can't wait. - Gill Gill
13 Jan 09
Kathryn Evans saves this from being a complete dud - the direction is flat (Horwood gets a 3) and the music is the ALW formula consisting of continuous eked-out nothingness, to which everything is sung - including the most banal scraps of dialogue - with a few proper songs dotted around the place. There are some nice touches to the set and the idea of having the musicians perform an ongoing dance around the stage is an interesting one. Otherwise, there was little to hold my attention. - Sycamore Flint
12 Jan 09
It's almost impossible to do justice to my admiration for and enjoyment of Craig Revel Horwood's stunning, intimate re-imagining of Sunset Boulevard. The multi-talents of the wonderful cast are extraordinary; acting, singing & dancing as well as playing a range of musical instruments, frequently simultaneously and without the benefit of sheet music or a conductor. Through necessity Diego Pitarch's design means the imagination has to work overtime but the musical arrangements by Sarah Travis are as rich and full as a pit orchestra. Because so many scenes only involve two or three characters the actor-musician element never becomes a distraction. It's invidious to pick out individual performances but Laura Pitt-Pulford is exceptional as Betty on her West End debut and after unsuitably young roles in touring shows it's good to see Dave Willetts back on form as the sinister Max. At the heart of the show is Kathryn Evans as an incredible Norma Desmond. It would be so easy to do a Patti Lupone and go completely over the top in this role but Ms Evans avoids that trap, which makes the closing scene even more effective and her magnificent voice frequently gave me goosebumps. At the end I came over all American and leapt to my feet but a standing ovation has seldom been more deserved. Just like Norma Desmond, I will return just in case this wonderful show does not extend beyond April. - David Baxter
07 Jan 09
This is a major disappointment. As most others have said Kathryn Evans is excellent. She nails the big numbers perfectly.
However, that's where the positives end for me.
I'm sorry, but if I am expected to pay between £30 and £60 pounds for a ticket, I expect something resembling and orchestra, and I expect some lighting effects on stage. Does the Director not realise that bright white bleaches the life out of a production?
Similarly, grey on stage only serves to dampen the mood. This is about film stars for goodness sake. I know it was set before colour films, but the set was so damn depressing.
I also feel with this musical, it really depends on its main songs. But that could have been lifted with an imaginative production.
It also didn't help that the theatre was very cold.
I am very normally positive about the shows I see, and look for the good where I can. Sadly,I just can't do that here.
- Steve B
03 Jan 09
Just back from the Xmas Saturday matinee and I have to say it was fab. I too have been a fan of Sunset Boulevard since the beginning, and was delighted to have it return to London (seen it 4 times previously). This was no ordinary staging though, as the set was very bare. Though the lack of material grandeur was more than made up with the most wonderful score and very talented cast. The small staging made the production a lot more intimate. Long may Norma stay back in town. - Mark
27 Dec 08
What a surprise. I've been a big fan of Sunset Boulevard since the beginning and saw it twice at the original run and once on tour a few years ago.
This new production is an absolute triumph. It trades grandeur and scale for an emotional intensity and rawness that the original production never even got close to. The entire cast are superb. A wonderful new take on a good show. - Martin
24 Dec 08
I saw this show for the first time last week and absolutely loved it. I thought the acting and singing from Norma, Joe, Max and Betty was fantastic. Norma was amazing. Would highly recommend seeing this show. - Helen
24 Dec 08
What a fantastic production, one of the best musicals I've seen in a long while. Having seen the original Sunset with Patti Lupone and then Petula Clark, I was wary in case this pared down version didn't live up to the grandness of that production's staging. But I didn't miss the scale at all. This smaller staging, even with the simple set, worked fine, and actually made you focus on the singing and the lyrics and the beautiful orchestrations. Wonderful singing from all the leads - I checked John Barrowman and Michael Ball's version of the title song online later, and they just couldn't compare to Ben Goddard's sensitive and realistic interpretation. Full of Gothic atmosphere, sad sonorous music, spiky and edgy time rhythms, pathos, gothic histrionics, just fantastic. Kathryn Evans deservedly got a standing ovation at both the shows I went to. Just stunning. - Iqbal
24 Dec 08
Very good production. Kathryn Evans gives excellent performance - well worth seeing. - Jon
20 Dec 08
Just had to give this production 5 stars for the performance by Kathryn Evans.Amazing, a tour de force, stunning and any other cliche one can choose to describe an outstanding performance.Worth seeing for Miss Evans alone. - Rob
19 Dec 08
I've known both the London and Broadway soundtracks for a while now so it was very exciting to have the chance to see this show in production, and it didn't disappoint. First off Sarah Travis has finally done something that works and I missed nothing of the gargantuan orchestra on the CD; from the "film noir" opening to the more tender moments it all had amazing character. Kathryn Evans was just amazing, and boy, can she tango! She commanded such sympathy all the way through and her alleged madness was never something you wanted to keep at arm's length.
If I had to say anything it would be that in act two Ben Goddard managed to be even bigger than Norma, which was slightly embarrassing sometimes, but it took nothing from this five-star production.
So many nice touches I wish I could mention but go see them for yourself.
- Andy Stephens
19 Dec 08
dreadful!! cheap and shoddy looking. good performance from ms evans but this is one step too far for actor/ musician shows. the gothic splendour of the original is non existent, the spiral staircase which doesnt even double up as anything other than norma's house is embarassing. lets drop these stupid shows... - richard marks
17 Dec 08
awfu;l awful awful - johnny
16 Dec 08
Having seen the original show and really enjoyed the Watermill production of Sweeney Todd I was really looking forward to this revival. Sadly I found it underwhelming, the performances were fine but it really is too big a show to be compressed into a small set and while actors playing their own musical instruments worked perfectly in Sweeney, here they just got in the way ,and the big dramatic numbers seemed devalued by having the musician/actors standing at the side instead of giving the stage to those performing them.
As Craig Revel Horwood was the director, I also expected some spectacular choreography but even that was ordinary.
To sum up, a great score, good performances but a very ordinary production. - Richard Sandler
16 Dec 08
From a foreign audience point of view Sunset Boulevard is one of Andrew Lloyd-Webber's best score. In this production I find Craig Revel Horwood's direction is evey bit as good as the Adelphi Theatre production. Kathryn Evans is the best Norma I have ever seen not only she is a great actress and a terrific singer, her tango is up there with any stars at Strictly Come Dancing. I must also mention the names of the whole cast - Elisa Boyd, Tomn Coles, Alexander Evans, Kate Feldscheiber, Sam Keyon, Nick Lashbrook, Tarek Merchant, Craig Pinder, Helen Power because they impressed me by their acting and playing an instrument for the entire score by heart. A great support from Dave Willetts as Max Von Meyerling and a very likeable Betty Schaefer play by Laura Pitt-Pulford. Lastly a very believable Joe Gillis by Ben Goddard. Personally I will see it again and again. Some images from the show at www.londonupdate.co.uk - London update
16 Dec 08
I know it's only in preview still, but if Saturday night's performance was anything to go by, avoid at all costs! Before I say anything else, Kathryn Evans as Norma Desmond was terrific. I only wish she had been in a different production. The minimalist staging here exposes what a weak piece of writing ALW's score actually is, with the usual endless reprises applied to mundane conversation. (Why they don't just speak the line half the time is a mystery.) And Ben Goddard as Joe Gillis was pleasing enough. The problem comes in the second half, when Laura Pitt-Pulford overacts to the point of disbelief. Whether she's playing dizzy in love or angry, she relentlessly chews the scenery. The melodrama that ensues between Joe and Betty in the second half makes Norma look positively sane. I found it impossible to watch. Their love duet 'To Much in Love to Care' is virtually screamed at one another with much gnashing of teeth and looks of overbaked fury; it's very weird. I couldn't sit through it again, and I've always been quite a big fan of the soundtrack; but with the insertion of a dreadful "song" ('Every Mivie's a Circus') unltimately replacing the humourous, snappy dialogue, this Sunset is a joyless, plodding affair. - Gavin Brock
08 Dec 08
By the interval, I'd decided the Watermill's trademark actors-doubling-up-as-musicians was just too small scale for a show that's all about Hollywood stardom; it certainly doesn't work as well as it did with Sweeny Todd & Mack & Mabel. It improved in the second half, where the stylised choreography (including the instruments!) finds it's place and where there are two good songs (compared to just one in the first half!) for an exceptionally talented cast to get their teeth into. In the end though, it's the show that isn't good enough and a story and characters it's hard to care about. - Gareth James
07 Dec 08
She IS big. It's the production that got small ...
There's something about Craig Revel Horwood I just don't like. It may be the introduction of confectionery into a surname that insults my diabetic sensibilities. Perhaps other theatre directors could consider the benefits of an injection of chocolate? Would Nicholas Malteser Hytner, or Trevor Minstrel Nunn be any more successful?
It may be the botoxed expressionless sneer he adopts for most of Strictly Come Dancing, or just an aversion to vertical hair, but I had to try hard not to let this prejudice colour my judgement of his production of Sunset Boulevard which has suddenly made the journey from Newbury to the Comedy Theatre in London's glittering West End with most of its cast intact.
What is has manifestly not done is tarted itself up for the trip to town. In fact, like a purposeful Berkshire housewife up for the Sales in sensible shoes, it looks like it's bought an Awayday ticket and is thinking of heading home on the late train.
This is a soundly competent regional production, from the Watermill - one of the most inventive and successful small producing theatres in Britain. Unlike anything you might see in Ipswich or Woking or Watford, it is not reliant on resting cast members of The Bill to attract audiences, nor is it a slave to Bill Kenwright and the Theatre of the Hasbeen.
The structure of the show is the brainchild not of C Revel H, but of the Watermill's resident artistic director John Doyle who pioneered, about ten years ago, the idea that actors in a musical could also play the instruments and dispense with a pit band thanks to the inventive musical arrangements of his creative partner Sarah Travis.
It's a formula which has worked brilliantly on productions from The Gondoliers, cunningly set in a Chicago pizza restaurant, to the outstanding Sweeney Todd which played first at the Trafalgar Studios before transferring to Broadway, giving Patti LuPone her second crack at Mrs Lovett, this time with a euphonium, and winning two Tonys.
At its best, the technique makes musicals more intimate, allowing emotional insight and subtleties of character to emerge from under the cellular blanket of lush orchestrations. I'm not sure if the formula's getting old, or there's some reason for it not to work on this particular oeuvre, but it doesn't.
Perhaps taking the immortal line about the pictures getting small, we should consider that the epic scale of Sunset demands grandiose staging and extravagant production values to match the melodramatic plot and the Churrigueresque characters? Certainly it needs more instruments to emulate that string-rich cinematic sound.
In the 60's, Stephen Sondheim had the idea of making a musical of Sunset Boulevard and collaborated briefly with lyricist Burt Shevelove to put it together, but then he met Billy Wilder at a cocktail party and floated the idea past him. "You can't write a musical about Sunset Boulevard," Wilder responded, "it has to be an opera. After all, it's about a dethroned queen." Sondheim ditched the project immediately.
Clearly, Andrew Lloyd-Webber didn't suffer the same agony of self-doubt.
I love the score. Apart from the fact that it's ironing music - a double CD to see you through the most demanding pile of shirts - and it dawned on me recently that there really only are four distinct tunes in the whole thing, I have loyally seen first Betty Buckley, then Patti, Petula and Glenn Close give their Normas. Shunned Paige, obviously. But this time, it's not working for me. Don't worry, Andrew, it happens to every composer your age at least once ...
Not that you can really fault the performances - Kathryn Evans gives her all in pursuit of the fractured heart and tortured soul of Norma Desmond and in some moments - notably her delusional return to Paramount with 'It's As If We Never Said Goodbye' she nails it absolutely.
It's Lloyd-Webber's fault that "With One Look" comes too early in the show to be effective. When she's in her light, and on her notes, this is thrilling stuff. But in this production she's too often clambering up or down a cranked metallic spiral staircase in heels and a succession of rhinestone peignoirs. Clearly she got the rump of the costume budget because everyone else seems to be in grey and white separates which might have been picked from Debenhams, since they owe little to period or place.
As Joe Gillis, relative newcomer Ben Goddard has to follow great performances like John Barrowman and Hugh Jackman, and whilst marginally less attractive, he has the ordinary guy 'aw shucks' likeability and the floppy haircut, but his range of expressions is perhaps limited.
He does very well in some of the numbers, jolting the production out of its misty unreality with genuine fire in the duet "Too Much in Love to Care" played angrily against flame-haired Laura Pitt-Pulford as Betty Schaefer. In fact so convincing was the tempestuous love-hate argument between the angry young man and the redhead, it threatened to lapse in to Will and Grace: the Musical, highlighting the possibility that Kathryn Evans and Karen Walker could be cousins.
At least he affects an American accent. I have no idea why Evans elected to play Norma quite so cut-glass home counties.
Dave Willetts adds to the grand guignol mood of the drama with a dark characterisation for the servant/husband Max, and effortlessly excellent singing you'd expect from a veteran Jean Valjean and Phantom. The ensemble keep up their instrumental playing relentlessly, and play the entire score from memory, but it does cause some detraction from the diction and the impact of some of the punchier numbers like the rousing 'This Time Next Year' is lost.
I was expecting more from the choreography since that's Revel-Horwood's forte, allegedly. Apart from some nifty traffic-direction with the performers and their instruments moving rapidly without collision, there's little actual dancing - except when Joe and Norma perform the tango in a version so obviously more indebted to Strictly Come Dancing than thirties Hollywood, that you could feel the entire audience clenching to avoid shouting "bring back John Sergeant!" www.blowstar.blogspot.com - JohnnyFox
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