Video: Sunset Boulevard cast are ready for their close-up at Ipswich Regent says Ipswich Operatic and Dramatic Society director

Ipswich Operatic and Dramatic Society stage Sunset Boulevard at the Ipswich Regent this week. Photos

Ipswich Operatic and Dramatic Society stage Sunset Boulevard at the Ipswich Regent this week. Photos: Lucy Taylor - Credit: Lucy Taylor

Ipswich Operatic and Dramatic Society turned 60 this year. Unlike the subject of its latest production, Sunset Boulevard, its star shows no sign of fading. Entertainment writer Wayne Savage talks to director and choreographer Mark Connell.

Ipswich Operatic and Dramatic Society stage Sunset Boulevard at the Ipswich Regent this week. Photos

Ipswich Operatic and Dramatic Society stage Sunset Boulevard at the Ipswich Regent this week. Photos: Lucy Taylor - Credit: Lucy Taylor

It’s tempting to ask Connell if he’s ready for his close-up; it’s the only line I know. While it may have been a hit film and a West End smash, it sounds a risky proposition for IODS, the first theatrical group in all of East Anglia to get permission to stage the show following its long London run.

“Sunset Boulevard is a big show, huge; certainly for an amateur society. It was such a big production in the West End, so grand. The set itself cost millions, when they refitted the Adelphi Theatre they refitted it with the set in there. Obviously it’s hard for us to re-create that, but we’re doing it in quite a different way.”

The musical, based on the 1950 film of the same name, centres around silent movie star Norma Desmond who was kicked out of the movie business when talkies arrived. When she meets the struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis, it seems things may be turning around.

The show features some unusual characters, chiefly Desmond. How do you re-create such an odd character for the stage?

Ipswich Operatic and Dramatic Society stage Sunset Boulevard at the Ipswich Regent this week. Photos

Ipswich Operatic and Dramatic Society stage Sunset Boulevard at the Ipswich Regent this week. Photos: Lucy Taylor - Credit: Lucy Taylor

“We’re very lucky we’ve assembled a very talented cast, but it’s trying to keep within the realms of believability not caricature. She’s very deluded, trying to relive her youth... It’s tragic because she’s trying not only to cling to her career but her youth. You don’t want to overstep the line and make it comedic or pantomime in any way. ”

Unusually, there are just four principles. Steph Brown plays Desmond with James Hayward as her butler Max, who is trying to keep her dream of returning to the big screen alive. Sian Naylor is Betty, an aspiring writer stuck reading scripts at Paramount. This brings her into contact with Jonathan Mudd’s Gillis and the two fall in love. Problem is he’s Desmond’s kept man.

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“Betty’s the younger woman and far more suitable for Joe. The other complication is Betty’s engaged to Joe’s old friend. The story revolves around these four, but they need a really believable world in which to exist. The beauty of the show is there’s lots of featured ensemble parts throughout.”

There have been so many movies made about the introduction of talking pictures, Singin’ in the Rain, Mack and Mabel. This is a very real, cynical account of Hollywood at that time, says Connell.

Ipswich Operatic and Dramatic Society stage Sunset Boulevard at the Ipswich Regent this week. Photos

Ipswich Operatic and Dramatic Society stage Sunset Boulevard at the Ipswich Regent this week. Photos: Lucy Taylor - Credit: Lucy Taylor

“It wasn’t all ‘these are the talkies and it was great’. There were some really tragic figures brushed to one side and Norma Desmond is an example of those actresses. I think it’s nice to see the other side of Hollywood.”

It features well-known songs like A Perfect Year, With One Look, As If We Never Said Goodbye, New Ways to Dream and the haunting title track.

“We’ve got the intricate quite difficult moments musically; some of these moments, especially in the ensemble numbers, are easily as difficult as Sondheim. The score is just beautiful... We’ve these beautiful soaring melodies which Andrew Lloyd Webber is known for, back in the day when you would have a handful of songs that are well known outside (the show),” says Connell, talking up the live orchestra and 40-strong chorus.

Sunset was massive 20 years ago and a huge hit in London. He feels a lot of the well-known 1990s musicals should be revived and given another shot on a professional stage before they come to the amateur one; to raise their profile again.

“Obviously it’s regarded as a classic film, hopefully there’ll be enough intrigue there for people to take a risk and come and see it. Because it’s a massive scale production, because of the difficulties putting it on I don’t think it’s one you’ll get the chance to necessarily come and see again very soon.”

Finding a show people want to see is hard. Connell is painfully aware of the exciting, high profile shows playing in Ipswich over the coming months such as Phantom of the Opera, West Side Story, Hairspray, Joseph. Let’s be honest, taking a trip to the West End isn’t as difficult as it used to be these nows either.

“Why should people come and take a risk on an amateur production? I think it’s good to support local societies, your local theatre otherwise we’ll lose them,” adds Connell, whose mum danced with IODS in the 1970s. He’s only been involved with the society for a couple of years, having finally hung up his split soles after years on the professional stage.

He says IODS is lucky to have a nice pool of people who continue to enjoy being involved.

“Hopefully when people come and see an IODS show (they feel) it’s going to be a good standard and that helps. We’ve seen a lot of changes throughout the years, calling various theatres our home - not just the Ipswich Regent but the New Wolsey and the Spa Pavilion in Felixstowe so, yeah, hopefully they’ve stood the test of time and people will (continue) to come.”

He doesn’t feel added pressure, it being the company’s 60th anniversary.

“I don’t necessarily think people are going to come and see it because it’s the 60th anniversary, hopefully they’ll come to see it because they’re intrigued by the show and want to come out for a good evening. Of course it would be lovely if this year was a particularly successful one for the company,” he smiles.

Sunset Boulevard runs at the Ipswich Regent May 20-23.

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