I’ve never really cared for Sunset Boulevard if I’m being totally honest with you. When I was much younger and was first discovering musicals, I came across “With One Look” and “As If We Never Said Goodbye” and my love affair with the show started and ended there; other than those two songs, the piece never intrigued me whatsoever. It wasn’t until it was announced last year that the show’s original Tony Award-winning Norma Desmond from the Broadway run of Sunset Boulevard in the 1990s – Glenn Close – would be reprising her role in a revival of the show at the ENO London Coliseum this month that I got excited. I knew that I needed to see the woman who sang these two songs I love perform in the show that made her a Broadway musical theatre star so I made sure I was going to be down there. I made so sure that I was going to be there in fact that I have now seen the show twice despite the fact it has only played four performances. Needless to say, I adore this revival of Sunset Boulevard.
Sunset Boulevard Review: ★★★★★
The big thing to love about this A-class revival is the fantastic casting. Of course it is lovely to have Glenn Close return to the role two decades later, but even her re-casting is sublime; when Close is singing about returning to the silver screen as Norma Desmond, you can feel the parallels between Norma Desmond’s story and her own return to Sunset in the tone of her voice - the lived-in and mellow tone she provides makes her vocal performance even stronger than it was twenty years ago. Glenn Close is reliving her glory days in a role that she clearly loved performing and that fantastic energy radiates out of her gorgeous portrayal. The masterful Michael Xavier also makes a stunning Joe Gillis with soaring vocals and a wonderfully hunky yet boy-next-door kind of attitude. Unlike a lot of leading men in the West End, Xavier is the everyman and with a character like Joe Gillis, this is important; Michael is ascending to his rightful place as one of London’s best leading actors, which is just how it should be. Recent Miss Saigon-alum Siobhan Dillon also shines in her portrayal of Betty Shaefer with a voice that might just be the most gorgeous tone I have ever heard. She sings such soaring melodies with ease and her overall performance oozes class and grace, as well as a level-headed attitude that her character has to offer. Betty is the only character in the show who seems to have some sort of sense by the end of it and Dillon’s portrayal of the role makes that both comforting and heartbreaking all at once. It’s a delight to watch.
The staging of this revival is also impressive and despite the show being billed as semi-staged, it’s a medium that actually helps the show as opposed to hinder it. I didn’t need an ornate grand staircase for Norma Desmond to ascend and descend from to show me she was in a luscious mansion because these actors helped me to see that vision. The fantastic lighting design by six time Olivier Award-winner Mark Henderson is also a massive help with that too; it’s always a delight to see Henderson’s work on the stage. This creative team has managed to make a show that is somehow even more aesthetically pleasing with very minimal use of set and that is something that should be held in as high regard as the transcendent performances that this production can boast.
Sunset Boulevard is back in the most glorious production of this overlooked Lloyd Webber classic that we have ever seen. Yes, this production may promote itself as being a Glenn Close star vehicle, but it is so much more than its star; it’s a production full of heart, high talent all around and true class. Sandwiched in the London theatre calendar between the legendary revival of Gypsy last year and the off-West End import of Funny Girl also coming to London this month, this is a revival that will never be forgotten.
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