Sunset Boulevard, by Andrew Lloyd-Webber, has just opened at the London Coliseum, starring the stunning Glenn Close, for a very limited run of five weeks. It is a show to rival anything currently playing in London – so, if any of the adjectives in this review are anything less than emphatic, mentally change them for something better. Suffice to say, it was an incredible show.
It wasn't only me who thought this about the show; the whole of the London Coliseum (the fourth largest theatre in London) got to their feet in a standing ovation as the show finished – what a sight! The recognition was, to say the least, well deserved. With a thrilling score and a gripping plot, all told through the awesome acting of Glenn Close (who really was “the greatest star of all”) and the rest of the cast, Sunset Boulevard was a true tour de force.
The show itself follows the story of Norma Desmond (Glenn Close), whose fame has been slighted by the introduction of “talkies”. Desperate to re-enter the film industry, she writes a script and asks unemployed writer Joe Gillis (Michael Xavier) to edit it for her. As the show develops, so does a complicated love triangle between Norma, Joe and Betty Shaefer (Siobhan Dillon). All the while, Max Von Mayerling (Fred Johanson) tries to protect Norma from the world, and from reality.
Sunset Boulevard Review:
From the start, and without a moment's lapse, the audience cannot help but be drawn into the turbulent whirlwind of emotions that envelop the show's four main characters. It would be impossible to remain detached from any one of them, and superb acting meant that the audience was never anything but absolutely engrossed in the show.
The show flew past in an absolute whirl – always a good sign, I think. There is not a dull moment in Sunset Boulevard – we are taken from humour, to passion, to brilliant chorus numbers, and back again, with such effortless rapidity that, even at the end of the show, it felt as though it had only just started.
What a cast. They were all brilliant, getting stronger and stronger as the show developed, and never letting the chemistry between any of the characters slip. The chorus and the minor characters were played flawlessly – however, the show revolved entirely around four cast members, so I will focus on them.
Siobhan Dillon played the role of Betty Shaefer. It is rare, even in the West End, to hear a voice (particularly a soprano) so effortlessly strong and, at the same time, so heavily textured with emotion and conviction. Her acting, equally, was flawless.
The character of Max Von Mayerling was played by Fred Johanson, who made me cry three times in the duration of the show. He played the character of Max with touching sincerity and, every time he sang, I was taken aback by just how rich his voice was.
Michael Xavier, playing the character of Joe Gillis, had the daunting task of telling the majority of the story. He was on stage nearly all of the time, and yet the energy with which he performed did not falter once – if anything, it increased as the show progressed. He was engaging and likeable and, with a strong voice, carried the show along admirably.
That leaves me with Norma Desmond, played by the inspirational Glenn Close. Where do I start? The applauses that she received following “One Look” and “As If We Never Said Goodbye” must have increased the running time of the show by at least fifteen minutes, making them quite literal show stoppers.
When Glenn Close was on the stage, she owned the stage: all eyes were on her; the audience hung off her every word, and became completely engrossed in the character of Norma. Something that I found especially impressive was how, with an almost uncanny knack, she managed to seem, whilst completely self-adoring, also devastating vulnerable.
There has been a lot of hype surrounding Glenn Close's West End debut, and her performance really did live up to this.
The score of Sunset Boulevard is one of my favourite of Andrew Lloyd-Webber's. I love how a few ridiculously catchy sections are played repeatedly throughout the show, linking everything together and making you feel almost nostalgic towards the end of the production.
This incredible score was performed by an exceptionally powerful orchestra, who brought the stage to life with the vibrancy of their music.
The staging for Sunset Boulevard is fantastic. The almost dauntingly huge stage of the Coliseum is used to its full effect, with the orchestra in the centre of the stage (a feature that I particularly enjoyed), staircases criss-crossing above and around them (almost in the style of West-Side Story) – and there was still space for an extremely authentic car. The stage was always full, meaning that the show seemed to be overflowing with life and action, even in the less dramatic scenes.
I have never seen lighting quite as amazing as that which was displayed at Sunset Boulevard. It was real art – choreographed, it seemed, to the same level as the dances.
The costumes were, of course, duly iconic and a pleasure to see. But, however nice the costumes were, I was still fairly disappointed when Michael Xavier put his shirt back on...
Would Most People Enjoy It? ★★★
I feel bad only giving this section three stars. If you like Andrew Lloyd-Webber, then you will adore Sunset Boulevard. However, it is a very full-on musical (there is very little talking, and very few breaks in the music); if you are ambivalent towards musicals on the whole, you might find it a bit too intensely musical for your tastes.
The “Wow” Factor ★★★★★
Combine an outstanding cast, a beautiful score being played by the best of the best and epic staging, and every moment of the show was a “wow” factor. Everything was larger-than-life and extremely impressive.
All in all, Sunset Boulevard will leave you buzzing, emotional, and wanting to see it again. Hosted in a remarkable theatre, with everything done to absolute perfection, I cannot flaw this production Sunset Boulevard. The run is extremely limited, and many nights have nearly sold-out; take my advice, and get yourself a ticket before they've all gone.
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