Review of 'Sunset Boulevard'

Glenn Close


The Andrew Lloyd Webber musical returns in style to London with Glenn Close reprising her Tony Award winning performance from Los Angeles and Broadway.

The Sunset Boulevard musical is a pretty faithful translation of the classic movie directed by Billy Wilder staring Jack Lemmon and Gloria Swanson. Norma Desmond (played here by Glenn Close) is a former silent-screen actress living out her retirement with her butler Max (Fred Johanson) forever lost in a her stardom memories . An out of work Hollywood writer, Joe Gillis (Michael Xavier), stumbles upon her mansion on Sunset Boulevard and, seeing an opportunity to turn his fortune around, agrees to re-work Norma's epic screenplay for “Salome” which she, of course, would star in and the great Cecil B. DeMille (Julian Forsyth) would direct. Joe quickly realizes he is in over his head and struggles to keep his social life and is able to help the young Betty Schaefer (Siobhan Dillon) rewrite one of his older works but Norma has other plans…

This is a semi-staged version of the musical which, when on Broadway, had incredible sets including a memorable “split screen” set where Norma's house interior set is elevated above the stage with a car chase happening below. Obviously here this was not an option though the car does make an appearance. The central, back part of the stage is occupied by the English National Opera Orchestra (all 48 pieces of it) and it is nice to see the orchestra on show as this is primarily a concert performance. A series of elaborate walkways above the stage are used to great effect for the various settings with a large area in front of the orchestra devoted to the main action including a surprising number of dance scenes that the company deliver with great enthusiasm.

So, what about Glenn Close? Well, absolutely enthralling. As an actress she clearly brings out the emotional intensity of Norma but, wonderfully, she has a great voice as well though perhaps not as great as it was on Broadway with a number of minor vocal aberrations I observed throughout which could be attributed to the number of years that have elapsed since her performances there. Her movement and facial expressions convincingly bring Norma to life on the stage. The audience loved her with a number of standing ovations at the curtain call.

The supporting cast offer some really good performance as well particularly Michael Xavier as Joe and, I have to say, Siobhan Dillon as Betty. To stand toe-to-toe with Close is quite brave and they put on a good show of it. The clarity and required innocence of Dillon's voice was quite refreshing and the ironic tones in Xavier's keep the story moving.

I did see a performance of Sunset Boulevard quite a few years ago when it first played in Toronto (Canada) and I have to say that the performance here at the Coliseum, while it did not have the fancy sets, packed a much more powerful emotional punch. Even at the time I wanted to see Glenn Close play Norma so I felt honoured to be able to finally hear her. I was not disappointed.

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2016-04-18

London Coliseum

Location: London (England)

Address: St Martin's Ln, London WC2N 4ES ENGLAND

Public Transport: TUBE Leicester Square TUBE Charing Cross

Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7845 9300


Home the English National Opera, the London Coliseum is easy to find with the rotating globe on the roof with it's name on top of it just north east of Trafalgar Square, just up the road from St Martins-in-the-Fields.

In recent years the Coliseum has been substantially refurbished and looks very much better for it from the wonderful wood, brass and glass main doors to the completely restored auditorium it is a sight to behold. Despite this new work it is still quite crowded on performance nights with access to the three balconies (Dress Circle, Upper Circle and “Balcony”) restricted to a single staircase.

Despite being home to an opera company there are a surprising variety of performances here with the acoustics and sounds systems very good indeed. Visibility is pretty good throughout though can be tricky on the Balcony (those with vertigo should give these seats a miss in any case). For full-stage performances I would recommend the dress circle to be able to see the entire stage and enjoy the best of the sound.