Exquisite Sunset Boulevard

My first choice for musical theatre has always been cabaret. I love that it embodies the soul of the rebellious sister to musicals offering subversive and bawdy anecdotes to life with a great dollop of humour. In comparison, musicals have always seemed such a conservative sibling for me, and it was with some trepidation that I went along to see Sunset Boulevard in the ornate surrounds of the National Theatre in St Kilda.

Sunset Boulevard
Maureen Andrew as Norma Desmond in CLOC's Sunset Boulevard

Cloc Musical Theatre has produced, in many ways, a first class offering of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard, especially considering this company relies mostly on volunteers to bring works into fruition. Much to my surprise, I was beguiled by the music and really delighted by this consummate production, which has made me appreciate some of the qualities that make musicals so popular.

I’d like first to extol the work of set designer, Brenton Staples, for the best use of props and scenery that I’ve ever been privy to in a production. From scenes at Paramount Studios to the external and internal viewings of Norma Desmond’s house, the sets are exquisitely crafted, perfectly timed and provide a real sense of film noir, the style of film in which this musical is originally based on. The photo montages projected onscreen to mimic characters traveling in vehicles to and from locations is again clever and inspired breathing life and excitement into this show.

Hats off to the Director, Chris Bradtke, who does a fine job with this expansive script,which is demonstrated in the show’s coherency and sleekness. In the hands of a lesser professional, this show could easily have been chaotic and overly sentimental. The Musical Director, Andrew McCalman also deserves high praise for his direction – beautiful! – as does the Costume Designer, Nerissa Saville, for her gorgeously groomed and apt costumes.

Mark Doran in the role of Joe Gillis is a confident and skilled actor and vocalist. I can’t fault his performance and he really is the cohesive force in this production, something that makes the audience feel at ease straight away.

Alexandra Clover as Betty Schaefer more than ably handles this role especially considering she has to switch from talking voice to singing voice regularly so it’s difficult for her to avoid sounding uneven. Nonetheless, when Betty and Joe perform a duet where they admit their true feelings for one another, Clover gets to showcase the breadth of her vocal range, which is pitch perfect and exquisite to say the least. This is one of my favourite scenes in the entire musical.

Maureen Andrew as Norma Desmond is a little shaky in this role and isn’t vocally strong enough to meet the pitch in many of the musical numbers. It’s not that she’s terrible but this key role demands a big presence and an even bigger voice and, unfortunately, Andrew’s performance doesn’t quite hit the mark. On some of the bigger numbers, I was anticipating goose bumps – especially in the dramatic closing scenes – but unfortunately they never arrived as the music often dominated her voice.

Admittedly, there’s a few other occasions where vocalists are tonally uneven or a bit out of key but it doesn’t really take the shine off this overall production. In summary, this delightful show is worth every cent you’ll pay to see it – the set designs, alone, are worth it.

Karla Dondio

Karla Dondio is a Melbourne based freelance writer who has been reviewing theatre, comedy, cabaret and other live assortments for five years now.

Karla Dondio

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