Ann McCreadie as Norma Desmond and Robert Sager as Joe Gillis in New Earswick Musicals’ Sunset Boulevard Photo by: Charles Hutchinson
STEVE Tearle, director of New Earswick Musicals’ autumn production of Sunset Boulevard, recalls falling under the spell of the Andrew Lloyd Webber show.
“From the first time I saw the show in the West End, then on Broadway, I’ve loved it, not just for the music but the drama too; it just appealed to me,” he says, ahead of next Tuesday’s opening night at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre in York.
“The story of faded movie star Norma Desmond falling for down-and-out writer Joe Gillis in a love triangle that leads to murder, set against the backdrop of 1950s’ Paramount Studios, is great melodrama.
“Billy Wilder’s film noir of the same name won two Golden Globes for best film and best actress, and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical follows the film with every detail the film is famous for, so when new Earswick Musicals got the chance to stage it, to say I was delighted was an understatement.”
Steve immediately put himself forward to direct the show. “It will be my first ever musical as director – no pressure there! I knew that following on from Ann McCreadie, who has directed all New Earswick’s shows for the past few years, would be a formidable task but I wanted the challenge,” he says.
“When the committee decided to appoint me as director, I was over the moon but really nervous, more so than when I’m actually performing. Ann informs me that this does not change, on or off the stage, when you are working in the theatre.”
New Earswick Musicals put forward an idea to Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Company on how they would stage Sunset Boulevard. “Not wishing to give too much away, I decided on using projection as the show has many quick set changes, plus a car chase, to which I wanted to give full justice,” says Steve.
“I had a fixed vision on how I wanted the stage and set to look and feel. I wanted a very different feeling to the London production to give it more edge but still fitting in with its era.”
Steve liaised with designer Robert Readman, who has built sets for New Earswick Musicals for many a year. “I talked through my ideas and together we put the set together. He was fantastic. He’s created the staircase that will be the centrepiece to Norma Desmond’s house, and there’ll a beautiful grand piano too,” he says.
New Earswick Musicals’ cast for Sunset Boulevard
On account of Sunset Boulevard being a show “that’s all music with very little dialogue, casting was always going to be difficult”, except for one role. “Casting Norma was easy! Ann McCreadie was free from directing, but would she perform? It has been years since she had taken a lead in a show, but she has performed in Oklahoma! a few years ago and in Carousel the year before last, where she stopped the show with You’ll Never Walk Alone,” says Steve.
“In a way too, her story reflected Norma’s own return to the stage after not being in the limelight for a number years. Ann has worked very hard behind the scenes, but would she play Norma? When I asked her at first she was extremely quiet and said she loved the show and the music was amazing but never dreamed she would ever play such a wonderful part, but I was very hopeful and I kept asking and eventually she said ‘yes’.”
Ann has lived up to Steve’s hopes and expectations. “In rehearsals, Ann’s stage craft has been amazing, and with being a director herself, it gives her the ability to fill up the stage with her presence,” he says.
Robert Sager is playing Joe Gillis. “Joe narrates the story as well as being a part of every storyline, so it’s a massive part, where Joe is on stage virtually throughout the whole show,” says Steve. “I needed Joe to be vulnerable in the beginning and to grow in confidence and presence as the story unfolds, and Robert does just. He’s also a great story teller and he’ll keep audiences entertained throughout the show.”
One sunny Sunday morning, when the auditions were coming to an end at the Upstage Centre theatre, Steve had only the role of Betty Schaefer still to cast. “I had a call from Amelia Hattee Cook expressing an interest in the part, and she was one of the last people we saw. Amelia came in really nervous but just sang and acted for us, and I knew at that moment she would be perfect,” says Steve. “Amelia has such stage presence that she takes you on her journey; alongside a beautiful voice comes a characterisation that is totally believable.”
When Mike Thompson expressed a wish to be the show’s musical director, Steve jumped at the chance to bring him on board. “I’ve worked with Mike in the past on so many productions, including Mike and John Hall’s own company, HAT Productions, and he’s been so great to work with,” he says.
“But he was committed to Cats with York Light Youth for two weeks just before our show, so both York Light and ourselves have worked together to ensure that Mike can do both productions. In fact a lot of the musicians may be playing in both.”
New Earswick Musicals present Sunset Boulevard, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, next Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm, plus next Saturday matinee, 2.30pm. Box office: 07759 260852 with no booking fee or ticketsource.co.uk