THE NEWCASTLE JOURNAL
Free drinks make up for
West End musical Sunset Boulevard hit the wrong note on its first
night in Newcastle as technical problems delayed curtain up.
But a cheer welcomed the announcement at the Theatre Royal just after 7.15pm that the show
would be delayed until 8.30pm - as the audience were told free drinks would be served in
Managers put the delay for the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical down to some 'teething
Theatre general manager Peter Sarah said: "We were more than happy to accommodate our
customers, in the circumstances, although I am not promising that it will become a regular
"We have near-full houses for the next few weeks and we could not possibly have
re-accommodated people on other nights.
"The Theatre Royal and the Really Useful Group thought it inappropriate to open
Sunset Boulevard to customers until the show's director was satisfied that the performance
would be of the highest standard that we demand." One happy theatregoer last night
was Jo Taylor, 24, of Dovecoat Farm, Chester-le-Street.
As she headed into the upper circle minutes before the show started, she said: "I was
excited enough to be coming to the opening night of such a great show but the free drinks
have certainly made for an electric atmosphere."
The musical is in Newcastle until October 6. Lord Lloyd Webber said he was thrilled when
he saw it in Plymouth recently.
THE NEWCASTLE JOURNAL
Could that really be Norma Desmond? One time star of the silent movies and favourite of Mr
Cecil B DeMille? Now reduced to an empty life of longing and regret? And could that be
Faith Brown? Who once served a valuable role as the imaginary funny side of Margaret
Thatcher? Now glammed up to play the afore-mentioned in a touring Lloyd Webber musical?
On the day when news that the Conservative Party had voted for yet another unprepossessing
bald leader, sneaked apologetically into the bulletins, the
parallels were irresistable. When the writing was on the wall, Norma and Maggie went with
comparable lack of grace and - with Maggie went Faith.But she is back. Hurrah! And forgive
me if I couldn't help but see the one time leaderence in Faith's gutsy performance as the
grand dowager of 10086 Sunset Boulevard - slightly barking, not always quite hitting the
right note but gloriously and awesomely certain of her own star quality.
This is the latest Lloyd Webber to hit the road and it officially opened here as the new
Jesus Christ Superstar did a few years ago. It tells the same dark tale told in Billy
Wilder's 1950 film of the same name but can't quite bring itself to be as uncompromisingly
bleak. Joe Gillis (Earl Carpenter) who is a struggling screen writer stumbles into the
palatial residence of one time screen goddess Ms Desmond who mistakes him for the man who
has come to bury her chimp. Joe's mistake is not to inter the monkey and get the hell out
- instead he hangs around and is charged with the task of turning Norma's dreadful script
for a film about Salome - no dialogue, naturally - into fodder for the modern movie
production mill, now served by the pragmatic DeMille.
He takes the money and gets on with the job. Pretty soon though, he finds himself in the
same sort of predicament as the poor old monkey, imprisoned in a guilded cage and unable
to make the most of a promising relationship with 22 year old film wanna be Betty Schafer
(nicely sung by Ceri Ann Gregory).
There are some good moments. After some eccentric vocal offerings, Ms Brown hits the spot
with her rendition of 'As if we never said goodbye' - marooned in a spotlight on the set
that doesn't want to know her.There are also some good tunes, as you would expect of Lloyd
Webber, who may well produce his best work when he leaves the stage for a while and plies
his trade as a songwriter. But the parts did not add up to a wholly rewarding evening.
Possibly in the wake of this week's real life news, it seems like small beer - even
without that I reckon it would be hard pressed to generate any real, gut-wrenching
THE EVENING CHRONICLE
The story of Norma Desmond is brought visibly to life in this astounding production. Faith
Brown excels in the role of Desmond, but mention must also be made of co star Earl
Carpenter, who must have Michael Ball quaking in his shoes with a voice that would melt
snow from a thousand paces.
Sunset is a show (in every sense of the word) and it revels in it. As a critic none too
enamoured with Lloyd Webber's past works this comes as a pleasant surprise. At times it
seems like he is stealing from Evita (one of the pieces that I adore). But hey, who cares
when you have star quality like this. Faith is chesty in every sense of the word.
As a fading silent movie star who befriends and beds a screen writer believing her career
is about to make a return. I was on the edge of my seat - not through suspense - but
wondering whether Faith would deliver those high notes in that afore-mentioned chesty
style. She does every time to spectacular effect!! The show is also high camp at times. No
drag queen would ever come close to this portrayal of Desmond. Slick scene changes, a
moving score and triumphant voices - again note should be made of Earl Carpenter - Sunset
is a fine star of the Theatre Royal season. A show not to be missed.
METRO LIFE NEWCASTLE
by Deane Hodgson
This multi-award winning musical has arrived in the region after receiving critical
acclaim across the globe. Widely regarded as containing one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's most
compelling and memorable scores, the musical takes an introspective look at the bleaker
side of Hollywood.
Former singer, actress and TV personality Faith Brown - who plays Norma Desmond - never
quite manages to prove strong enough for such an iconic role. Despite rare moments in
which she sparkles almost as much as her costumes, she generally fails to deliver the
intensity required for a challenging Lloyd Webber production. The real star of the show is
the precise Earl Carpenter. He
excels in the narrative role of Joe Gillis. Along with co-star Ceri Ann Gregory, Carpenter
adds a hint of character to a dull and slow moving story that seems to drag rather than
engage from its beginning to its thankful end.
THE NORTHERN ECHO
by Viv Hardwick
Sunset almost stretched into midnight as the opening of Britain's second
biggest touring show of all time (Phantom being the largest) was delayed by an hour. Kevin
Wallace, executive producer for Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group, came out on
stage to explain that company and theatre staff had been working without meal-breaks since
Sunday to move the show from Plymouth to Tyneside. All bar six of the 1,000-plus audience
opted to stay.
After all that, it was hardly surprising that Lloyd Webber's 'best adult musical' then
burst on the ears like a Bigg Market with a loud hailer.
Sunset could never be accused of subtlety. This is a big, brash, bold, hooray to
Hollywood of the 1950s with the astonishing Faith Brown clutching at our heart strings as
the former silent screen star Norma Desmond. "I am big... it was the pictures that
got smaller" - is the character's famous riposte as she attempts to end 20 years of
self imposed seclusion at 10086 Sunset Boulevard with the help of desperately-in-debt
young writer Joe Gillis (a confident display by Earl Carpenter).
Brown's voracious appetite for this role perfectly matches Desmond's predatory nature and
her emotional singing voice earned a well-deserved standing ovation. A support cast of 22
provides the essential Tinseltown trimmings as Michael Bauer growls his devotion to
Desmond as her servant Max Von Mayerling.