The Best of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Sunset Boulevard

A stunning return to the golden age of Hollywood: Sarah Brightman dazzles in Sunset Boulevard.

The much-anticipated lavish new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony Award-winning musical masterpiece, Sunset Boulevard, starring musical theatre and international superstar Sarah Brightman, is now playing in Melbourne. This production is a true spectacle, captivating audiences at the Princess Theatre with its cinematic design, clever use of projections, and stunning scenery that transports viewers to the world of the Hollywood silver screen.

Based on the Billy Wilder film, the musical version of Sunset Boulevard made its world premiere at London’s Adelphi Theatre on July 12, 1993. It had its American debut in December 1993 at the Shubert Theatre in Los Angeles, with Glenn Close starring as Norma Desmond. The show then opened on Broadway at the Minskoff Theatre in November 1994, achieving the highest advance ticket sales in Broadway history at the time. The original Broadway production won six Tony Awards out of the eleven for which it was nominated, including Best Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Book.

Sarah Brightman makes a triumphant return to the theatre after more than three decades, starring as Norma Desmond, a role that has become iconic in the world of musical theatre. Brightman’s interpretation of Norma is unique, portraying her as a fragile and tragic character, which enhances the pathos and leaves the audience feeling deep sympathy for this fading star of the silent film era. Her portrayal is both believable and heart-wrenching as she slides further into her own delusions and depression. The role of Norma Desmond, at select performances, will be played by the remarkable Silvie Paladino. If you need an excuse to see this show twice, here it is!

Alongside her, Australian actor Tim Draxl shines as Joe Gillis. Draxl’s performance is a masterful blend of charm, humor, and tragedy, delivering a powerful vocal performance and a compelling character arc. Robert Grubb is sensational as Max Von Mayerling, the devoted butler whose portrayal is nothing short of brilliant. Ashleigh Rubenach is wonderful as Betty Schaefer, bringing warmth and depth to her character.

The ensemble cast, including Regan Barber, Amy Berrisford, Billy Bourchier, and many others, deliver perfectly synchronized choreography and transport the audience back in time with their old-world Hollywood accents. Their performances are impeccable, adding to the overall emotional impact of the show.

One of the standout features of this production is the set design. Norma’s dilapidated mansion is beautifully realized on stage with a monochromatic, grungy yet opulent design. The metallic finishes in the monochromatic palette create a haunting and cold atmosphere, enhancing Norma’s sense of isolation and irrelevance. The way the set slowly comes together, often feeling like it is closing in on Norma and Joe, further emphasizes the themes of entrapment and isolation.

The costumes are equally spectacular, bringing old Hollywood glam to the modern stage. Each outfit is a testament to the era’s fashion, adding authenticity and visual splendor to the production. The attention to detail in the costumes, all of which evoke the opulence and style of the Golden Age of Hollywood, is truly remarkable.

The music, with its dramatic and emotional power ballads mixed with catchy Broadway tunes, is brought to life by the cast’s powerful performances. The score features the hits “With One Look,” “The Perfect Year,” and the anthemic “As If We Never Said Goodbye,” all of which are delivered with the emotional intensity that Webber’s compositions demand. The orchestra truly did a remarkable job of capturing the drama and emotion of the score.

The use of lighting and projection design is particularly noteworthy, creating a seamless blend of cinematic and theatrical elements. The clever use of these technologies enhances the storytelling, making the audience feel as if they are part of the Hollywood world depicted on stage.

This production of Sunset Boulevard is the theatrical event of the year, weaving a magnificent tale of faded glory and unfulfilled ambition. The story of legendary silent movie star Norma Desmond, discarded by Hollywood with the advent of “talkies,” and her passionate and volatile relationship with struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis, leads to an unforeseen and tragic conclusion. This newly imagined revival, presented by Opera Australia and GWB Entertainment by arrangement with The Really Useful Group, is a must-see for any theatre lover.

Don’t miss this limited engagement at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre before it closes August 11. This production promises to be a memorable experience that will leave audiences reflecting on the nature of fame, ambition, and the passage of time.

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Written by Michael Kent 

Images by: Daniel Boud