ENO London Coliseum
Reviewed on Monday 4th April 2016
Marking one of the biggest theatrical events of the year so far, Glenn Close is making her West End debut in Sunset Boulevard. Close first took on the role of Norma Desmond in the 1993 LA production of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black and Christopher Hampton's musical before originating the part on Broadway the following year.
To return to a role after over twenty years is unusual, but Norma Desmond, a has-been silent movie star living in a fantasy world, is a gift of a character and I can understand Close's fascination with her. There's no denying that Close is a phenomenal actress; she lives and breathes every second and is utterly captivating throughout.
Close knows how to make her mark with the big numbers, receiving huge responses after her almighty renditions of 'With One Look' and 'As If We Never Said Goodbye'. However, the softer side of Close's voice isn't as strong making a few of the score's more tender moments a bit of a struggle. Overall Close's performance is wonderful and audiences will jump to their feet night after night over the next four and a half weeks.
Starring opposite Close is Michael Xavier as Joe Gillis, a struggling screenwriter who finds himself caught up in Norma's deluded world. Joe is hired to work on a script Norma has written for her big 'comeback', but of course complications soon arise. At first Xavier's performance seemed a little tired, but he soon settled into the role and came into his own.
Elsewhere the ensemble carry the show's energy, providing many of the evening's highlights with the group numbers. The incomparable Siobhan Dillon shines as Betty; the role may be small but Dillon acts it beautifully and sings effortlessly. Fred Johanson brings some heart as Max Von Mayerling, particularly impressing during the final scenes.
Semi-staged concert productions are always a challenge. Whilst it's a joy to watch the glorious ENO orchestra perform onstage, the musical is held back by this staging. I've never seen the piece before, but Sunset Boulevard feels like a grand show which would benefit hugely from a stunning design. From the circle, Lonny Price's production lacked in atmosphere.
Those who battled for a ticket to see Glenn Close give a performance of a lifetime won't be disappointed.
Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
Sunset Boulevard runs at the ENO London Coliseum until 7th May 2016.
Please visit www.eno.org for further information and tickets.
Photo Credit: Richard Hubert Smith