Reprising the role of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard is a lady of exceptional talent, who has featured on TV, Theatre, Radio and Concerts for her entire career. She was the youngest actress ever to play the lead role of Eva in Evita at 19 and is now back as another one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s leading ladies – a role that she was the first to sing through in the early nineties. Now almost 30 years later – Ria Jones is receiving rave reviews back in that role, in one of the unmissable tours of the year.
Thank you for taking the time to speak. Saw the show in Leicester and it is marvellous as a production and you are fantastic. I’d never seen it before!
Thank you it is a wonderful show isn’t. A lot of people haven’t seen it before. It’s one of the lesser known Andrew Lloyd Webber shows but it’s surprising a lot of people, because whilst there is a film attached it’s a 1950’s one so many don’t know the film so they don’t know the story.
I agree, I was bowled over – It’s wonderfully traditional Andrew Lloyd Webber
For me it’s my favourite show, as a singer it’s my favourite score of his certainly to sing, it’s the drama of it. It has all styles in it. I think it’s a beautiful, beautiful show.
Andrew Lloyd Webber insisted no less than 16 could tour in this orchestra and you absolutely have to have the string sand the brass and the symphony, it’s such a grand score. To sing with that every night and to have that support is a dream. It really is.
What has it been like to reprise role you created?
Just incredible. I was 24 when I did the workshop, so I was far too young to play Norma Desmond but I’d always had an older sounding voice even when I was younger – so I think that’s why Andrew asked me to sing the role in the workshop.
I joked that maybe one day I’d do the revival. Fast forward 26 years and there I was last year stepping in for Glenn Close! It’s incredible, when you think about the saying “being at the right place at the right time” and I certainly was and not just that, but the right role. You can spend your whole career and the right role not come along at the right time.
It’s been a long wait but worth all of it.
All eyes were on the Colliseum and a Hollywood A-lister was in the role (Glenn Close). It was a wonderful time. I had breast cancer in 2013 and I had a year out of performing, so for me it was a nice way back in where the pressure wasn’t fully on me and then when I needed to step up, I did.
I know that this production is “Made at Curve” which is becoming a bit of a quality stamp!
That’s right. Nikolai Foster who is amazing and I think his direction is stunning in this piece and that theatre, I have to say, is such a friendly theatre – the perfect theatre to start the tour. They’re all wonderful aren’t they.
It’s a great tag isn’t it – “made at curve”. You’re right, it’s quality. They choose so carefully. They choose with everyone in mind. Their programming is fantastic I think. It’s all due to Nikolai and Chris and all the team there. We were there for 2 months nearly, wonderful time. That’s my favourite part actually. It’s such a lovely time it’s magical watching the show come together and you just create.
This isn’t the first time you’ve performed with Curve is it?
No that’s right 42nd street in 2011, I played Dorothy Brock and I played her again in Paris last Christmas and New Year… and the reason I got that was because the artistic director of the theatre in Paris was at the first night I went on in Sunset Boulevard!
Now you’re well into the tour of course, how was taking this back to your hometown?
Yes I’m in Swansea this week, my hometown which has been an incredible week. It’s the first time I’ve ever done a musical back home. I first performed there 1987 so it’s so special to be home. Especially the line “I’ve come home at last!” – lots of familiar faces.
The show has received superb reviews as have you – I wondered is it still as exciting when you see those 5 stars?
Of course it is! Anyone would be lying if they said otherwise. We get critiqued all the time now with everyone having a mobile phone but everyone has been so positive. It’s really affecting people – I’ve been getting tweets and messages from strangers. It’s wonderful. Even people who know nothing about the show come up to me at the end and say I’m coming again.
We’ve had a standing ovation every show and that takes my breath away. I looked in the front row last night and a gentleman had tears rolling down his face and I thought that makes it all worthwhile – that’s why we do it.
Your character, so manic at times
By the end of it I’m emotionally spent. I’m absolutely mentally, physically and vocally tired but in a great way. One minute she’s dramatic and the next as fragile as anything. She’s such a colourful character to play and such a challenge that every show I try to find something else, something different. Danny is the same sometimes we play our characters slightly difference which is great because it keeps it fresh. I feel I really know her and how she would behave in every situation. That’s because she’s so well written.
Do you feel sorry for Norma?
The part I do feel sorry for her is that all of us, all actresses grow older – but it’s her loneliness I feel for. Shes lonely and I think there are many lonely people in the world which I think is one of the hardest things to deal with in life. She’s had all that fame, all that money and she’s lonely and she’s living this reclusive life. It’s like she’s created this make believe life that she lives in her mansion behind close doors and Joe entering that world lights her up again, she becomes the star she once was again and of course it all goes hideously wrong. I think it’s one of the most dramatic endings of a musical ever written
Hollywood is so based on looks and age and even now the Hollywood stars, the Meryl Streeps of the world say there aren’t the roles for women of our age. There’s only a few as far as big roles are concerned compared to the hundreds of other ones in your 20’s and 30’s. We’re out there we just need their roles to be written!
What’s your personal favourite show?
But, It really is sunset boulevard because I think it has everything in it. I just live the story and the music and I do, I love the show. I love Gypsy, Gypsy has my favourite overture, I love La Cage. I like old-school musicals like the old Broadway classics, Guys and Dolls, Anything Goes – well anything Cole Porter!
I remember shows that have stayed with me – I saw The Follies years ago and I went back about 5 times. Watching these older ladies sing and perform their hearts out 8 times a week and I thought, if I’m ever lucky enough to be on stage at that age then I hope I can perform like that.
You can catch Ria Jones in the sensational SUNSET BOULEVARD this week in Manchester or on tour until April 2018. For full details visit: https://uktour.sunsetboulevardthemusical.com.