THEATRE REVIEW: Sunset Boulevard, Theatre Royal Newcastle, until Saturday, October 14

Ria Jones as Norma Desmond
Ria Jones as Norma Desmond

The role of Norma Desmond, the faded silent-movie star desperate to cling onto the glories of the past, is one of the most iconic in modern musical theatre.

It has been coveted by some of the greatest stars of them all, to coin a phrase, with Glenn Close and Petula Clark among those to be honoured with the part in the show, which is set in late 1940s Hollywood and is based on the 1950 movie starring Gloria Swanson.

Danny Mac as Joe Gillis during the song The Lady's Paying.

Danny Mac as Joe Gillis during the song The Lady's Paying.

But, credited with the first ever performance of Norma in the Andrew Lloyd Webber adaptation in 1991 at the Sydmonton Festival, where the composer tried out most of his works in front of invited guests, was none other than Ria Jones, who has recreated the role more than 25 years later for this UK tour.

She also famously stood in for an unwell Glenn Close last year in front of a baying audience demanding their money back, and managed to win them over to receive a standing ovation.

Her performance last night was one of many that lifted the Newcastle crowd to their feet. It was powerful and at times scary, while caressing the flawed character's vulnerable side.

I saw Petula Clark smash the role in the late 1990s and, while Ria couldn't generate the same empathy and therefore emotion, she was every bit as convincing and her voice strong.

Alongside her, dashing Danny Mac, a finalist in last year's Strictly Come Dancing, was excellent as scriptwriter Joe Gillis. His acting was faultless and suitably cheeky, and his singing superb - the rendition of Sunset Boulevard was spine-tingling. The chemistry between the pair fizzed as their doomed relationship spiralled inexorably towards inevitable tragedy.

One of my favourite performances was by Adam Pearce, who played the aged Norma's long-suffering, but supportive butler Max von Meyerling. He had the most incredible vocal range you'll ever encounter. In a flash, he would move between the deepest of deep to a gentle falsetto wracked with feeling - amazing!

And while I'm on the subject of good voices, Molly Lynch was up there with the best. Her portrayal of script editor Betty Schaefer, the subject of a side-plot fling with Joe that eventually led to his downfall, was endearing and her singing effortless, with perfect clarity.

With my critic's hat on, I naturally tried to spot a weak link in the cast, but failed miserably - the acting, harmonies, movement and timing was all on point. From their opening, explosive number Let's Have Lunch, through the fun The Lady's Paying to the New Year scene at Schwab's Drugstore, the action, particularly in the first half, was gripping.

The orchestra certainly played its part in that - as did the wonderful staging. Norma's mansion was given a spooky, gothic makeover, with a staircase that performed its own balletic manoeuvres thanks to an army of well-drilled stage-hands, and the use of the set to show scenes from the silent movies or passing cars outside Schwab's was imaginative.

It was a highly entertaining evening that was greatly appreciated in the auditorium. I'm sure there will be a few more standing ovations as the week progresses.

For ticket information, visit https://www.theatreroyal.co.uk/whats-on/sunset-boulevard