Some shows, you automatically assume you know everything about them, and so does everybody else; here, the lines about the movies getting smaller and being ready for a close-up. It's a surprise then to find neither musical numbers, nor story for that matter, seem familiar. Correction: the plot is as old as the hills, or rather, the Greek myths and the Bible, although I found I kept thinking about Colette's Chéri: Danny Mac plays Joe Gillis, a down-on-his-luck writer who accidentally winds up chez Norma Desmond (Ria Jones), a fading film star, who happens to have a script in need of editing.
Which is mirrored by a sub plot about one of his stories being turned into a script by Betty Schaefer (a delightful Molly Lynch). The production as a whole is fettered by inconsistency in the dialogue, sometimes sung, sometimes uttered; the former making ordinary remarks overwhelm any significant others. That said, the lyrics are most enticing. Now, what rhymes with 'kosher' (answers at the foot of the column).
Staging is on an exceedingly grand scale, effective in conveying the sense of watching a movie being made (art imitating life), with many an ingenious special effect – alongside those falling into the 'seemed like a good idea at the time' category. Video projection wonderfully evokes some scenes, for example, busy streets outside the bar, and car chase / dash. However, constant close ups of the star's face, from ingénue to, well, pantomime dame, are something of a distraction. Similarly, although a great job of capturing the chaos and crowds in a film studio, at times, it's just too busy. Yet the haunted grandeur of Norma Desmond's mansion is amazingly captured via elegant staircase, drapes and chaise longue. And her costumes are eye catching.
There's a real treat for the ear too from the first class orchestra, and all the singing is to an exceptionally high standard, particularly Ria Jones who lives it up as the star of the show, if kind of ironic given she starred in silent movies. One fascinating aspect of the production is the view of cinema, especially in the early days; Film, (I have now learnt/googled...), officially joined the Ancient Arts at the beginning of the century. And the American Dream, as in the recurring line, 'new ways to dream', heralds poignancy with Norma Desmond lost in her dreams whilst Joe Gillis is unable to imagine a future worth looking forward to.
Meanwhile, back to the story, which is not even helped on its way by discernible tension. To be honest, difficult to find much gripping in a tale of two nitwits, although Danny Mac and Ria Jones are tremendous in portraying two such polar characters, the one completely disillusioned, the other, full of delusions. They ‘just aren't very sympathetic: she, the needy has-been down on her luck; he, the upstart, always on the make; both, completely self-absorbed. Thus Molly Lynch sparkles all the more - here's the real tragedy, when she becomes enamoured of such a man. Hats off also to Dougie Cart as her boyfriend, Artie Green, Carl Sanderson as the oleaginous Cecil B. DeMille and Adam Pearce, as the sinister yet tenderly faithful retainer, Max Von Meyerling.
OK, not quite my cup of tea, or indeed, shot of bourbon, but the audience thrilled to this show; greeting each and every number with enthusiastic applause, and granted it a standing ovation.
Reviewer: Carole Baldock
Reviewed: 19th February 2018
North West End Rating: ★★★