Sarah Brightman Makes A Stunning Return To Stage In Melbourne For Sunset Boulevard #REVIEW -


Sarah Brightman Makes A Stunning Return To Stage In Melbourne For Sunset Boulevard #REVIEW

by Paul Cashmere on May 30, 2024

in News

The 2024 Australian production of ‘Sunset Boulevard’ starring icon Sarah Brightman, is possibility one of the most captivating productions ever to premiere on an Australian stage.

For opening night at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre, I was stunned by the visuals, the sound, the costume and design and the choreography. Never before have I seen an Australian production with all of the ingredients at perfection level. I could simply not fault this show in any way.

The storyline is classic Hollywood. The original 1950 Billy Wilder motion picture starring William Holden and Gloria Swanson came from a time when Hollywood made movies about Hollywood. This show tells the story of former star Norma Desmond (Sarah Brightman) and her delusion with the current status of her fame after being absent from movies for an extended time. Along comes Joe Gillis (Tim Draxl) who reluctantly agrees to assist in the comeback of Norma only to discover later that her butler Max (Robert Grubb) is also her ex-husband and the complications unfold. Add to that the comeback script is considered a joke by Paramount head Cecil B. De Mille (Paul Hanlon) and the downward spiral begins until the tragedy conclusion.

Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyricists Don Black and Christopher Hampton turned Sunset Boulevard into this musical in 1993. The plot was kept intact. Patti LuPone was the first Norma at the premiere in London’s West End in 1993 but it was Glenn Close who perfected the role in Los Angeles and Broadway in 1994.

Australia’s major scoring of music legend Sarah Brightman for the role of Norma takes this to a whole other level. Sarah has not performed in 30 years since she starred in Lloyd-Webber’s ‘Aspects of Love’ in 1993. This was a major get for Australia and the pay-off is her mesmerising voice and performance. I still get chills thinking of her singing.

Complimenting Sarah’s stunning performance is the believable characters of Joe (Tim) and Max (Robert). Tim we know from shows like ‘Last King of the Cross’, ‘The Newsreader’ and ‘Molly’. Robert is a veteran of Australian stage and screen with parts in ‘My Brilliant Career’, ‘Gallipoli’, ‘Phar Lap’, ‘All Saints’, ‘McLeod’s Daughters’ and ‘The Secret Life of Us’. As the story progresses we discover Max is a victim of Norma’s manipulation and Joe also starts heading down that path to dire consequences.

For a Lloyd-Webber musical ‘Sunset Boulevard’ has no standout song. Instead the show works as a complete body of work, moreso than the “concept album” format many show follow. This show features the Melbourne Orchestra with Musical Director Paul Christ filling the room with sound, unlike a more common band backing the performances. That also lifts this show to a traditional and often intense theatrical level.

The sets are incredible. Again we are back to tradition with actual sets on state which are interchangeable from scene to scene as opposed to what has become common in the past decade, big LED screens that can instantly change a setting with the actors all of stage. ‘Sunset Boulevard’ feels like a show, not a concert like many of today’s shows have become.

That really was one of the special performances we rarely get to see. We often get ‘Great’ but we rarely get’Greatness’.

Sunset Boulevard is at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre until 11 August, then Sydney Opera House from 28 August.

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