Tonight was the stuff of theatrical legend as local Swansea girl Ria Jones played her final performance in a week-long run of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard at the Grand Theatre. The largest-scale musical ever seen at the Grand, Jones had requested that producers include the venue on the show’s national tour, having appeared there many times, but never in a major touring musical.

And what a response she got. From the warm applause as she made her entrance down the famous staircase to the ecstatic response to her first big number ‘With one look’ as she stares out into the auditorium, Jones did Swansea – and the Grand – proud. Her powerful rendition of ‘As if we never said goodbye’ prompted a spontaneous burst of applause on the line ‘I’ve come home at last’, and a well-deserved mid-show standing ovation.

Jones made national headlines last year when she took over the role of Norma Desmond from an indisposed Glenn Close at the London Coliseum, having previously originated the role of the faded movie star in the first-ever workshop of Sunset Boulevard some twenty five years ago. Back then, Jones was a star of Lloyd Webber’s Evita, Cats and Joseph. Now she finally gets to star in Sunset – surely his greatest musical, based on the iconic Gloria Swanson film – in her own right.

Having seen one of Jones’ appearances at the Coliseum last year, an already stunning portrayal has deepened both vocally and dramatically in this new production directed by Nikolai Foster. It’s directed rather like a ‘movie within a movie’, with two cameras flanking either side of the stage, and with effective video projections showing both the setting and silent movie footage. As the staircase and car are being manoeuvred around the stage, it’s almost like watching that happen ‘behind the scenes’ in a silent movie.

Jones is joined by Strictly Come Dancing star Danny Mac as Joe Gillis, the writer whom Norma lures into her mansion, developing a deadly obsession with him. Mac narrates the show and the most exciting part of the plot twists and turns around the relationship between Joe and Norma – the audience are never 100% sure of who is using who. The tension between the pair – as they sit watching Norma’s silent movies together and dance the tango in a party for two on New Year’s Eve – is palpable.

Adam Pearce’s protective butler Max keeps an ever-watchful eye on Norma throughout, whilst his true identity and relationship to the star is finally revealed later in the piece. Molly Lynch is Betty Schaefer, a young writer who Joe gets to know a little too well for Norma’s liking, and who becomes embroiled in the tense emotional drama of the final scenes. Betty is part of the youngsters who meet at Schwab’s – Lee Proud’s choreography is particularly effective in these company scenes which break up the drama of the central story. A 16 piece orchestra plays Andrew Lloyd Webber’s richest of scores and Don Black’s evocative lyrics.

Norma’s long-awaited return to Paramount Studios later in the story is inventively-staged and lit, with Jones bathed in light as old colleague Hog-Eye shines a spotlight on Norma. Jones’ ability to act through song in ‘As if we never said goodbye’ – as Desmond basks in the familiarity of the film studio and her past memories – shows that she’s at the top of her game in this piece. It’s a totally mesmorising portrayal of the faded movie star and I defy you to take your eyes off her for even a second. At the end, a well-deserved standing ovation and several curtain calls later, a joyous Jones jumped in the air, mouthing ‘Swansea!’ as she left the stage. For tonight’s audience – and as Norma Desmond herself would say in typically over-the-top fashion – Ria Jones was truly ‘the greatest star of all’.