REVIEW: SUNSET BOULEVARD (English National Opera)

It is always lovely to see historical moments in theatre history recreated. Recently we had Marti Webb reprise the role she originated in Tell Me On A Sunday (thirty years after the fact) and now we have Glenn Close reprising the award winning role of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard at the ENO.

Norma Desmond is a faded silent film star who didn’t quite manage to transition into the talkies (films with dialogue). The eccentric diva lives in her palatial mansion on Sunset Boulevard, believing she is still just as famous as she always was. When Joe, a struggling film writer, lands on her door step when his car breaks down, Norma takes him on to edit her amazing new film script which is going to be her big come back movie! At least that’s what the deluded star thinks. The truth is that her script is awful. But with a short temper and several previous suicide attempts to her name, will Joe tell her the truth that she is a washed up has-been or play along with her story to save her life?

The biggest hit from Sunset Boulevard ‘With One Look’ comes a little early in the show (although it was still being hummed in the interval) and then there is slight lull until the penultimate number in the fist act ‘This Time Next Year’ which is a great ensemble number and really showcases the vocal strength of the entire cast including Haydn Oakley (Arty), Katie Kerr and Aaron Lee Lambert. Act 2 really picks up the pace, opening with Michael Xavier delivering the other well known song in this show, the title track ‘Sunset Boulevard’ and blows the roof off of the Coliseum (whilst luckily keeping his skimpy little swimming drunks, on).

Michael Xavier is the driving force in this show, hardly being off stage for a moment. He is beautifully paired up with Siobhan Dillon for several numbers and their voices blend together wonderfully creating an eargasm (new word I’ve learnt recently) along with the 48 piece orchestra, especially during ‘Too Much In Love To Care’. Siobhan is an incredible singer and actress and shines in this role. Fred Johanson, as butler Max von Meyerling, brought the obvious comedic-butler character that is seen in shows but with a serious side to him and a wonderful vocal ability.

Now to Glenn Close! I guess with her being cast in this show you have to look at it one of two ways. The selling point for the show is that she is a Hollywood film star (Fatal Attraction) making her West End debut in a role she won awards for playing twenty years ago on Broadway. The downside to this is that twenty years ago she would have been the right age to play Norma Desmond and now, well she’s not. But with some tweaks to the script I guess there is nothing to say the character couldn’t be seventy years old, however sadly Glenn Close’s voice is flagging a little. Regardless of that though, the audience lapped up her performance and enjoyed every second.

The set is nicely built to resemble the stairs of the palace that Norma Desmond lives in, with the huge orchestra underneath at the back of the stage.

This production of Sunset Boulevard is undeniably incredible and could (and probably should) transfer to another West End theatre for a longer run after this. Glenn Close serves her purpose in this production (acting as a nostalgic nod to the role she is so famous for) but with someone technically more appropriate in the role it could enjoy a successful West End revival of one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic shows.

Reviewed by West End Wilma
Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

Sunset Boulevard is playing at the English National Opera until 7 May. Tickets here