Musical theatre returned to the Royal Albert Hall last week for a one night only concert of one of Andrew Lloyd Webbers greatest scores. Quick Fantastic's production of Sunset Boulevard previously wowed audiences at Alexandra Palace earlier this year and has now set its sight on a grander scale, playing this gorgeous and iconic venue.
As this was a concert production, there was no particular set adorning the stage aside from a few token props that came in when necessary. However, the beauty of the prestigious building felt fitting for the legacy of Norma Desmond, giving her staircases to descend and plenty of space to command in a way that is utterly satisfying.
The beautiful score was played wonderfully by a 40 strong orchestra conducted by Alex Parker. If another one of Andrew Lloyd Webbers shows has drawn criticism for its reduction of the orchestra, there was no such issue here. The stage was full of talented musicians who ensured the music sounded stunning reverberating around the famous auditorium.
The cast of 19 was led by the fabulous Mazz Murray, oozing charm and charisma as Norma Desmond. More used to dominating the stage at the Novello Theatre giving it her best Donna in Mamma Mia, Mazz proved why she is a force to be reckoned with and one of the greatest talents in the West End. If she was very very good in the role at the Alexandra Palace version, she was utterly sensational this time around, clearly more confident in the role and with a clearer affinitty to the legendary character. If Norma is famous for saying everything she needs to say with her eyes, Mazz matched this perfectly, ensuring one look was all it takes. When her voice did take centre stage, jaws fell to the floor. Mazz has one of the most distinctive and incredible voices in musical theatre. When she uttered the immortal line "I've come home at last" in showstopping number (and my personal favourite Andrew Lloyd Webber composition) 'As If We Never Said Goodbye', the unprompted and wild reaction from the audience will stay with me forever.
While Mazz undoubtedly is the greatest star of all, she is joined by a brilliant array of West End performers in the cast. Ramin Karimloo reprises his role as Joe Gillis, ensuring he is the perfect counterpart to Mazz's Norma and showing off his unmistakeable vocals in the shows title number. Zizi Strallen is as super(califragilisticexpialadocious) as ever as Betty Shaefer, delivering a breathtaking duet with Ramin with 'Too Much In Love To Care' while Jeremy Secomb is wonderfully mysterious yet commanding as Max.
The music is really what makes Sunset Boulevard special. As well as the aforementioned 'As if We Never Said Goodbye', absolute classics including 'With One Look' and 'The Perfect Year' have never sounded better now they are sung by this fantastic cast accompanied by a gorgeous orchestra. Shows at Royal Albert Hall always tend to be special and this was no exception. Unfortunately, there were a number of sound problems during the event, meaning that on group numbers many cast members were drowned out on their solo lines. While that was disappointing, it didn't diminish the high quality of the evening.
This production of Sunset Boulevard felt special when it was Alexandra Palace. Now, it is on a whole other level, thanks to a more confident cast, a better setting and the fact there was no longer a need to social distance on stage (We were deprived of a kiss at Ally Pally though this was thankfully restored here). While this was a one night only concert, it feels far too momentous to never be seen again. Let's hope there is more to come from this version of Sunset or, at the very least, give it the West End revival it deserves with Mazz in the role of Norma. Reminding us of what was lost in those dark months when theatres stayed close, hearing these songs in this specific environment, it really felt as if we never said goodbye.
Sunset Boulevard played one night at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday 3rd December. Next up from Quick Fantastic is a concert version of Gypsy at Alexandra Palace in February 2022. For tickets and more information, see quickfantastic.com
Photos by Danny Kaan