Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Amateurs Rise to the Challenge of Sunset Boulevard; Seasoned Director Fred Wharton Tells DAVID WHETSTONE about the Challenge of Sunset Boulevard

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Amateurs Rise to the Challenge of Sunset Boulevard; Seasoned Director Fred Wharton Tells DAVID WHETSTONE about the Challenge of Sunset Boulevard

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID WHETSTONE

SOMETIMES in the world of musicals, where fortunes can be won and lost, a window of opportunity opens briefly, allowing the amateurs to follow in the professionals' footsteps. It happened recently in the case of Sunset Boulevard, which opened in the West End in 1993.

The Really Useful Group, which manages Andrew Lloyd Webber's shows, decided to make the performance rights available for amateur companies for one year only.

Among the successful applicants was Durham Musical Theatre Company which later declared itself "extremely proud and privileged to have been granted a licence".

The company's stab at the show - "filled", they say, "with romantic grandeur, radiance and melodrama heightened by one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's most sweeping and melodious scores" - will open at Durham's Gala Theatre on June 23.

"I think this will be the third amateur production of it," says director Fred Wharton.

"The Isle of Man had the amateur premiere and I know it's been done in Ipswich and Blackpool.

"Usually we have a free choice of the shows, unless there's a professional company touring, but sometimes they'll write to certain societies inviting them to apply. They also did it with Evita one year."

Fred says Andrew Lloyd Webber regards Sunset Boulevard, based on Billy Wilder's 1950 film about a fading silent movie star, as his best show.

But he also tells me about its diffi-cult birth, with technical hitches and lawsuits as much a part of the off-stage story as the hit songs which include With One Look and The Greatest Star of All.

A professional touring production came to the Theatre Royal in 2001 when Faith Brown played the gloriously deluded Norma Desmond whose relationship with a young man, Joe Gillis, drives the plot.

Other than that, opportunities to see the show in the North East have been... well, zilch.

Hence the interest in the Durham production.

"It's a wonderful piece," says Fred. "It's my favourite, particularly because of the depth of the characters.

"In most Lloyd Webber shows they tend to be a bit one-dimensional, but Norma is such a complicated character, a former silent movie star who has been a recluse and is so demanding and theatrical, but also vulnerable."

Eileen Glenton, protagonist of many North East musicals, brings her experience to the role of Norma.

But Fred, joined by Steven Hood as musical director and Kathleen Knox as choreographer, is also the nearest you can get in this fickle world to a safe pair of hands.

In September it will be 50 years since his first production. In that time he has directed about 150 productions, including six in one hectic 12-month period.

He recalls getting hooked as a young teenager when he would help backstage with a society in Chesterle-Street. …

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