We’d just witnessed a camera follow Tom Francis’s Joe Gillis between dressing rooms and corridors backstage before leaving the theatre entirely and singing a verse from the street – to whoops from pub-goers and confused looks from passers-by. It was a thrilling moment, live-streamed back into the auditorium, which offered a glimpse at a future in which tech could enhance theatre for the better. And it’s fitting for a production that’s both a visual homage to Billy Wilder’s 1950 black-and-white movie on which it’s based, and a conceptual love letter to the trappings of the stage.
Nicole Scherzinger (Norma Desmond) in Sunset Boulevard. Photo: Marc Brenner
Lloyd fronts all of his productions with a star, and here, it’s Nicole Scherzinger embodying the one-time Hollywood darling Norma Desmond, shut up in her mansion scheming ways to make a return to the pictures. Cinema has moved on from the silent movies that made her name, but to Norma, it’s not she who’s lost it, ‘it’s the pictures that got small!’.
While better known as a pop star, the former Pussycat Doll is no stranger to musical theatre, having starred in the 2014 revival of Webber’s Cats, for which she earned an Olivier Award nomination.
There’s obviously nothing washed-up about Scherzinger, who has appeared in her prime for the last 20 years and will probably continue to do so for the next 20, but with a stoop and a shuffle, she becomes the faded star. Add to that guttural vocals, chest-smacking passion and unhinged stares as a camera pans across her face, and she’s every bit the disillusioned caricature Wilder depicted in his original.
Grace Hodgett Young (Betty Schaefer) and Tom Francis (Joe Gillis) in Sunset Boulevard. Photo: Marc Brenner
Opposite her, as the struggling writer ensnared by Norma’s bygone glamour, Francis proves he’s solid musical-theatre talent. He gives a moving performance as the kept man Joe, teetering between awe and exhaustion at the cut-throat screenwriting business. Lurking in the shadows or looming large on screen, David Thaxton captures the humour of the gormless and vaguely sinister director-cum-housekeeper Max. Grace Hodgett Young, as love interest and script editor Betty, is all sweetness and determination.
While rarely on stage, a chorus of over 20 bring terrific zeal to the group numbers. Under Fabian Aloise’s choreography, and under Jack Knowles’ lighting which often plays with their silhouettes, they mass together or writhe on the floor in sympathy for Joe’s plight. Dressed in contemporary, black and white clothing, they become part of the monochrome palette of designer Soutra Gilmour’s misty and atmospheric design. Between her set and costumes, and Nathan Amzi and Joe Ransom’s cinematography – also shot in black and white, the production is a touching homage to the movie.
Tom Francis (Joe Gillis) and cast of Sunset Boulevard. Photo: Marc Brenner
As is uniform for Lloyd’s work, props are largely absent and lines are often spoken to the audience instead of the receiving character, but never at the expense of conveying emotion. Having a camera follow an actor around the stage has become trendy among productions with a high budget and it can be distracting, but here it's worth it for the feat pulled off on the street. There’s also a sense of the Jamie Lloyd Company as a brand here, with shots of company mugs and the show’s advertising poster, but a winking self-awareness saves these moments.
Slick and moody, it all comes together under Webber's sweeping score, with Lloyd bringing the cool to musical theatre. Scherzinger, meanwhile, remains ever ready for her close-up.
|Sunset Boulevard, Savoy Theatre review
|Savoy Theatre, Savoy Court , Strand, London, WC2R 0ET | MAP
|Charing Cross (underground)
21 Sep 23 – 06 Jan 24, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
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