‘Sunset Boulevard’ // Princess Theatre

Sunset Boulevard’ was timely.

‘Sunset Boulevard’ hit the stage at just the right time, giving Melbourne theatre fans the mature and intense show they’ve been missing. When it opened at the Princess Theatre on May 29th, you could feel the excitement buzzing among the crowd.

Haunted by her memories and dreams, movie star Norma Desmond yearns to return to the big screen. A struggling screenwriter who can’t sell his scripts to the Hollywood studios may be her only hope, until their dangerous and compelling relationship leads to disastrous circumstances.

Production designs from ‘Sunset Boulevard’ were among the most intriguing and unforgettable that have ever been seen. The elaborately designed grand-scale sets, which included Norma’s creepy old mansion and a quaint 1950s cafe, captivated the audience with its detailed touches. Furthermore, the lighting design enhanced the story in a meaningful way and was not just unique. Characters were deftly accentuated by spotlights in subtle ways, while fairy lights contributed to the nostalgic, Paramount Studios-esque movie atmosphere. The plot was further enhanced by the meticulous attention to detail in the props, costumes, and sound designs, making for an absolutely amazing experience.

There are definitely many great moments throughout the performance, but the production seems slowly paced. Particularly in Act 1, there is a sense of expectation for something more substantial as it meanders rather than advances. Using the skills of the talented ensemble cast may have given these slower parts more energy, especially considering the length of the production. Unfortunately, it appears that most of their potential was not utilised, as the first act makes clear.

While ‘Sunset Boulevard’ featured few ensemble-heavy numbers, each was executed with precision and style, thanks to the crisp choreography. “This Time Next Year,” set against the backdrop of New Year’s Eve, stood out as a particularly sentimental and memorable ensemble piece, showcasing the dedication of the choreographers.

Sarah Brightman’s theatrical “return,” as Norma would aptly describe it, was met with high expectations. Yet, from the moment she graced the stage, Brightman held the audience in her hands. Her talent transcends personal preferences, whether you’re a fan of operatic vocals or not. However, her rendition of “With One Look” in Act 1, appeared to push her vocal limits, straining to reach notes that barely reached beyond the orchestra pit. Fortunately, her performance in Act 2 marked a notable improvement, reshaping the audience’s perception. The fact that such a long awaited return to the theatre scene struggled to meet expectations is cause for concern.

From the perspective of an audience member, Tim Draxel delivered a standout performance, effortlessly elevating any moments of doubt. Draxel’s unwavering dedication and impeccable timing held the audience captive with every word. His rendition of the iconic ‘Sunset Boulevard’ in Act 2 was nothing short of phenomenal, leaving audiences clamouring for more. Truly, his interpretation of this timeless tune deserves to be shared with the world. 

This new ‘Sunset Boulevard’ production leaves a range of fixable portions, but memorable moments really do shine through. 

‘Sunset Boulevard’ plays at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne until 11 August, before beginning its run at the Sydney Opera House on 28 August. 

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