Sunset Boulevard review - April 2016

Glenn Close plays the fictional fallen star with perfection

Dramatic, delusional and diva-esque are just some ways to describe Norma Desmond, the protagonist in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Sunset Boulevard. Hollywood icon Glenn Close plays the fictional fallen star with perfection, as she makes her West End debut at the London Coliseum.

Based on the 1950 classic Billy Wilder film noir of the same name, Sunset Boulevard has been revived in a semi-staged version by producer Lonny Price, which is much more toned down and raw than its predecessor. With simple staging that includes modest frameworks and staircases for Close to sweep up and down dramatically, as well as a screen that occasionally plays faded black and white images of former days of Desmond’s youth, the focus is firmly on the performances of the actors, and Close steals the show.

With acting that is reminiscent of her previous roles such as Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction and the definitive villain Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalmatians, Glenn Close, who played the role on Broadway more than 20 years ago, portrays Norma Desmond’s delusions of still being the best Hollywood star around - despite her fall from grace - with complete conviction. Co-star Michael Xavier, playing the part of young writer Joe Gillis, provides the perfect complement to her empowering force with his wavering disposition.

As Gillis’ car breaks down outside the mansion of Desmond, who is trapped in a fantasy world of her former fame as a silent film star, he enters to find help but instead finds himself imprisoned in the recluse’s estate and unable to leave for fear of her committing suicide. Helping to edit a script that will bring her back to her former days of glory, Desmond submits the screenplay to Paramount. Deemed a disaster, unbeknownst to Desmond herself, butler Max (Fred Johanson) tries everything to stop his beloved star from discovering the truth.

The score by Lloyd Webber begins with a beautiful overture played by a 48-strong onstage orchestra with composer Michael Reed taking the baton, and the rest of the music continues to provide a perfect soundtrack to the twists and turns of the disillusions of Desmond. With book and lyrics by Christopher Hampton and Don Black, which remain particularly faithful to the film, Sunset Boulevard is dark and intense with moments of pure brilliance from Glenn Close.


Reviewed by Alice Bzowska.
4 April 2016, London Coliseum