“Smile a rented smile, fill someone’s glass
Kiss someone’s wife, kiss someone’s ass”
Ria Jones’ extraordinary history with Sunset Boulevard might well be entitled The Norma Conquests – from originally workshopping the role of Norma Desmond for Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Don Black and Christopher Hampton (book and lyrics) in 1991 to her headline-grabbing stint as Glenn Close’s understudy in last year’s ENO staged concert version of the show to finally getting to play the leading role in her own right on this UK tour, premiering at Leicester’s Curve, some 26 years later.
And was it worth the wait? Jones certainly is making the most of her well-deserved moment, offering a different skillset for her markedly different interpretation. Jones is undoubtedly the better singer, the lushness of her voice soaring effortlessly to the impassioned heights of the score. And she’s a different kind of actress, offering a brasher, more manic kind of energy to this former movie star caught up in a fantasy world when a young screenwriter (Danny Mac) accidentally offers hope to her faded career.
As for the rest of the production though, it didn’t quite hit the mark for me. Perhaps it is having seen the show so recently, that itch has been well and truly scratched for me and it doesn’t necessarily feel so strong a piece of theatre that will tempt people back which is what a classic musical needs to succeed on the road. So I wonder how the show will fare on its extensive tour without a name like Close to draw people (you sense producers releasing pics of Mac in his trunks recognises the work already underway).
There’s good work in the company from the likes of Molly Lynch as script editor Betty and long-time Lloyd Webber collaborator Adam Pearce as the loyal Max. And Nikolai Foster’s production works hard to look (Colin Richmond’s design) and sound (Adrian Kirk’s musical direction) a cut above your average touring musical. The main issue for me lies in a score overly reliant on pastiche and a book that has never heard of the term subtlety. I’m glad I’ve seen Sunset Boulevard, and in particular Ria Jones, but it’s hard not shake the feeling that I don’t think I want to see it again anytime soon.