Facing the job of filling those massive shoes in the stage musical version – receiving its mainland UK amateur premiere here in Burton this week – is Sharon Plummer of Burton & District Operatic Society. What a triumph! She captures the majesty and grandeur of a Goddess of Hollywood’s Golden Age and the needy loneliness of a woman whose fame and glory is behind her. It is a tour de force performance vocally and in characterisation.
The society was thrilled to secure the premiere – which has rightly attracted attention from far and wide. They received opening night messages of support from composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Don Black – and a visit in person from representatives of The Really Useful Group Ltd. It’s enough to make you break out in a nervous rash – but there was no sign of first night nerves as an assuredly confident cast took to the stage at de Ferrers Academy last night.
The show runs until Saturday February 21 at 7.30pm each night and there is also a matinee at 2.30pm on Saturday.
Sunset Boulevard the musical, by Lloyd Webber, Black and Christopher Hampton, is pretty faithful to the plot and the spirit of the Oscar-winning Billy Wilder film. Opening with the discovery of a body floating in the swimming pool of a mansion on Sunset Boulevard it flashes back to show the events leading up to the tragedy. Lovers of the film will be delighted that some of that opening scene is played on a screen that descends on the de Ferrers stage.
Joe Gillis is a penniless screen writer who has failed to hit the big time. Norma Desmond was once the most famous woman in the world – but now lives a reclusive existence with only her faithful man servant Max for company.
She still has wildly unrealistic dreams of making a comeback (or a return as she prefers to call it) and enlists Joe to help, swiftly falling in love with him in the process.
As Norma Desmond, Sharon Plummer oozed glamour and eccentricity in equal parts. Her interpretation of hit numbers With One Look, The Perfect Year and As If We Never Said Goodbye was haunting and mesmeric.
Providing musical accompaniment was a 12-piece orchestra, led by David Blackwell. They got no chance to rest as the music of Lloyd Webber underscored every second of the show without breaking for dialogue.
This is not a show for faint-hearted performers. These are not easy songs to sing – but the society rises to the challenge and emerges victorious. The backstage crew is also fully-employed managing set change after set change with choreographed ease.
Lee Smith was deceptively casual as Joe Gillis, wise-cracking and hustling for work – and then sliding almost dispassionately into an uneasy relationship with Norma that always carried the threat of the tragedy that would follow.
Andrew Last played Max with powerful precision – rarely hinting at his real history with Norma, which surfaced in Act Two.
Laura Hodder was delightful as Betty Schaefer, the girl who fell for Joe after coaxing him to write a screenplay with her. Her impressive vocal range was showcased in Too Much In Love To Care, a duet with Joe which displayed their genuine chemistry in contrast to the artifice of Joe’s affair with Norma.
Steven Foster directed with the sure touch of a man in his 13th year of directing for this society and blessed with a talented and hard-working team more than capable of realising his vision.
They’ll be making history for a second time this year as they manage a change of name to become The Burton Musical Theatre Company. Losing the word ‘operatic’ will, they hope, reinforce their reputation for performing a range of contemporary and traditional musical theatre shows.
To check on ticket availability for the rest of the shows this week, ring 01283 541552 or visit www.burtonopsoc.co.uk.
You can also follow the group on Facebook by searching for ‘burtonoperaticsociety’ (for now) and on Twitter, where they are @BurtonOpSoc