Sunset Boulevard

Laurence reviews Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Sunset Boulevard at London Coliseum, with Glenn Close reprising her Tony Award-winning role as Norma Desmo…

It is not often you feel an actor was born to play a particular role but this is certainly the case with Glenn Close who gives a magnetic, Tony Award-winning performance as Norma Desmond, the fallen Hollywood star lost in a world of illusions, in Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Sunset Boulevard (London Coliseum), revived in a compelling semi-staged version directed by Lonny Price.

When impoverished screenwriter, Joe Gills, on the run from debt collectors stumbles into the reclusive world if faded silent screen goddess Norma Desmond, she sees the opportunity to make a comeback and rise to her former glory. He, by turn, is seduced by the actress and her luxurious lifestyle. Joe becomes entrapped in a claustrophobic world, until his love for another woman leads him to try and break free with dramatic and tragic consequences.

Although this version has none of the, epic scale of the original 1993 London production – Norma Desmond's baroque mansion is evoked by nothing more than a set of metal walkways which also doubles, as a studio backlot – the book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, manage to capture the spirit of the classic Billy Wilder movie, while the use of black and white film of the period further enhances the sense of reality. Indeed this tale which is basically about the entrapment of a weak-willed writer in an ageing star's dreams, retains its darkness.

I have always felt that Lloyd Webber's lush score which includes such memorable melodies as Sunset Boulevard, With One Look and The Perfect Year is among the composer's best work's and it is truly a pleasure to hear the music performed so well by a 48-string onstage orchestra conducted by Michael Reed.

But there is no doubt what makes this musical such a cherishable occasion and that is the outstanding performance by Glenn Close, in her West End stage debut. She treats her character not as a sacred monster but a real woman who lives in a remembered past and treats her lines as if they were sincerely felt. "I am bug, it's the pictures that have grown smaller!" she returns to one point. One of the highlights of the evening is when she returns to Paramount seated in a studio chair to deliver her incoherent script of Salome to Cecil B DeMille and basks in the spotlight as if reliving her past triumphs. Michael Xavier is most convincing as Joe, the struggling screenwriter who believes he can manipulate Norma but soon finds himself a virtual prisoner in her household, while Siobhan Dillon is engaging as the burgeoning writer he falls for. There is also an impressive performance by Fred Johanson as Norma's loyal manservant Max, I should add that all the roles are gloriously sung by the entire cast.

This powerhouse of a production, then, truly gives a renewed lease of life to a great musical!

Sunset Boulevard

Run until 7 May 2016
Box office: 020 7845 9300

Last modified: April 6, 2021

Written by 9:10 am Theatre