Review: Sunset Boulevard @ Princess Theatre (Melbourne)

'Sunset Boulevard' - Image © Daniel Boud
National Arts and Comedy Editor. Based in Melbourne.
Pop culture, pop music and gaming are three of Jesse’s biggest passions. Lady Gaga, Real Housewives and The Sims can almost sum him up – but he also adores a night at the cinema or a trip to the theatre.

‘Sunset Boulevard’ at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre offers a dazzling display of some of the most stunning lighting and sets this reviewer has ever seen – and a cast overflowing with talent.

The iconic Sarah Brightman fills the role of Norma Desmond with sheer delight. . . Dizzying charm. . . And something subtly yet unequivocally terrifying.

It’s a production that must be seen to be believed. Towering, intricate set pieces make you shake your head in wonder as they glide back and forth on stage, and the use of lighting and projection to cast shadows and move scenes forward is astoundingly effective.

Tim Draxl’s Joe Gillis is down on his luck and desperate for a big break. His on-stage chemistry with Sarah is clear – their bizarre, uncomfortable relationship totally believable throughout. It’s clear Joe will do practically anything at this stage, for some semblance of wealth and recognition in his field.

Jarrod Draper is loveable as Joe’s best mate Artie, with an alluring charisma and an eye-catching stage presence.

Sunset Blvd DanielBoud3
Image © Daniel Boud

The effervescence of Ashleigh Rubenach emanates from her portrayal of Betty Schaefer – she’s got big dreams and is very clearly the yin to Joe’s yang – they’re in two different places in their working lives, and it’s clear as day. When they collaborate, they each bring something to the table: Betty with her go-getter attitude, and Joe with his experience and very real perceptions of Hollywood.

Robert Grubb’s Max Von Mayerling is a lost soul – hopelessly devoted to Norma’s delusions, hellbent on protecting her. It’s an interesting relationship, with plenty of discomfort and sideways glances.

The music in ‘Sunset Boulevard’, while composed and performed spectacularly by the live orchestra, is just okay. It successfully captures the era in its sound, but melodies and lyrics aren’t totally gripping and enthralling. Highlights are the solo performances from Sarah Brightman, who fills the Princess with her haunting operatic vocals. . . And the brooding, foreboding ‘Sunset Boulevard’ performed by Tim Draxl.

Sunset Blvd DanielBoud1
Image © Daniel Boud

Act one is rather slow moving. Characters and plot points take a while to set up, and not a great deal happens. Act two, however, moves at a speed which feels perfect for what’s going on, and the pay-off from tension which has been building for two hours is satisfying. Characters get more of a chance to shine in the later half of the show – their development takes a front seat and even the music feels more exciting here.

‘Sunset Boulevard’ is a visual spectacle. Set designer Morgan Large deserves huge praise, as do projection designer George Reeve and lighting designer Mark Henderson. The cast – Sarah Brightman particularly – are all immensely talented, filling the world that is Hollywood with interesting, dynamic characters. Where the pacing of the story and the sometimes forgetful music let ‘Sunset Boulevard’ down, cast and technical elements hold it back up to the hot spotlight, to shine as an overall enjoyable piece of theatre.


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