Review: Sunset Boulevard (London Coliseum, London)

Sunset Boulevard is being dubbed as the ‘Theatrical Event of the Year’ after returning to the West End for the first time since it’s original run at the Adelphi Theatre back in 1993. Telling the story of ageing actress Norma Desmond, it explores her relationship with failing writing Joe Gillis, and her eventual demise. In this new production, Glenn Close returns to play the role she played in the original Broadway production.

Direction by Lonny Price – Price brings together a sterling production here that is in many ways simple, but that seems like an absolute masterpiece of complexity. It’s not completely without fault (floating mannequin, I’m looking at you) but all in all, it’s a very fine job.

Written by Don Black and Christopher Hampton – It would be unfair to describe this as anything but the movie on stage, so there’s little invention here. Still, the characters feel quite well-rounded and the narrative has depth that you don’t often find in more modern musicals.

Set design by James Noone and Lighting design by Mark Henderson – Noone has gone for simplicity over elegance, and it’s nice to see that there’s not an attempt to copy the designs of the original production. With the orchestra on stage and a nice use of the full expanse of the Coliseum, it feels grand without being showy.

Choreography by Stephen Mear – So Sunset Boulevard isn’t known for its choreography, but Mear does a decent job of using movement in the ensemble numbers to make everything feel energetic.

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber – I thought The Phantom of the Opera was my favourite piece by Lloyd Webber. I was wrong. This is sweeping and subtle at the same time, and it sounds absolutely incredible in the hands of the ENO orchestra.

The cast – This is all about Close’s return to the stage, and while her singing is sometimes a little tentative, this is hands down one of the finest performances I’ve seen on stage. Audiences are witnessing Norma Desmond, not Glenn Close. The supporting cast are all particularly strong and bringing the energy you’d expect to what is most definitely the theatrical event of the year. Cast includes:

  • Glenn Close (Norma Desmond)
  • Michael Xavier (Joe Gillis)
  • Siobhan Dillon (Betty Shaefer)
  • Fred Johanson (Max Von Mayerling)

Verdict: ★★★★★

This is the best thing I’ve ever seen on stage, and based on the response of the audience at the end, the majority of people seem to be having the same experience. It’s not without fault, but the sheer power of the orchestra, of Close’s performance and of the story come together to show just how musicals should be done. There’s nothing else like this in the West End, and I don’t expect there to be anything like it again any time soon.

And the view…

Upper circle, row J, seat 56. This is an absolute bargain of a seat. Yes, you’re far away from the stage and it’s not the most comfortable amount of legroom I’ve had, but it was a completely clear view for the majority of the performance and a fraction of the price of many of the seats in the auditorium.

London Coliseum, Upper Circle, Row J, Seat 56
London Coliseum, Upper Circle, Row J, Seat 56

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