Sunset Boulevard Cast
Glenn Close (Norma Desmond), Michael Xavier (Joe Gillis), Fred Johanson (Max Con Meyerling), Siobhan Dillon (Betty Schaefer), Haydn Oakley (Artie Green), Julian Forsyth (Cecil B. Demille).
Sunset Boulevard Synopsis
Based on the film of the same name, Sunset Boulevard explores the unlikely romance between an ageing, lonely, faded star of the silent screen (Norma Desmond) and a young writer (Joe Gillis).
Let me begin this review with the disclaimer that I was sat in the very back row of the Coliseum’s balcony (i.e. the very back row of the theatre); as such, I can’t comment on the intricacies of the performance (particularly with regard to the acting – my eyesight’s great but not that great!). It’s probably best to consider this review a ‘worst case scenario’ but I’m pretty sure the production only gets more incredible the closer you sit.
I guess this isn’t a popular opinion but I’m not at all ashamed to admit that I love Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals (yes, even Love Never Dies and Stephen Ward …). I don’t want to put other productions down but this felt like the first proper musical I’ve seen in a long, long time.
The plot is robust, well paced and ultimately tragic, it had me captivated from the outset. In terms of the music, the title song, ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’ and ‘The Perfect Year’ are absolute standouts but I was in awe of the lush, sweeping, emotive, score as a whole. It’s a great fit for the grandeur of the movie sets of the time and, indeed, Norma herself. Upbeat ensemble numbers such as ‘This Time Next Year’ add enjoyable variety and repeated musical phrases throughout hooked my heart and left me wanting more. It’s a truly great musical.
This Production of Sunset Boulevard
This production works in so many ways. Firstly, it’s an absolute treat to see a musical with a full orchestra and the sound in the Coliseum enabled even the full ensemble numbers to echo up to the balcony in an electrifying manner. Everything was crystal clear.
The set is a skeletal framework of staircases that allow for seamless scene transition (a bit like the Regent’s park version of Into the Woods). The orchestra sits at the top and set pieces are transported in and out below. I liked it a lot, I often prefer more bare productions that allow you to use your imagination.
Michael Xavier (as Joe Gillis, the young writer) carries the audience through the production with a great deal of charm. The venom in his voice, coupled with the rolling tempo of the title song, brought a lump to my throat. Siobhan Dillon (as Betty, Joe’s young love interest) also puts in a beautifully emotive vocal performance.
Now, Glenn Close. Her rendition of ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’ was one of those theatre moments that I absolutely live for. The moments that make your heart stop, your eyes blur. The moments in which you’re so zoned in on the person performing that it’s almost surreal. The moments where your body takes a mental and emotional photograph that will stay with you forever. She was sublime throughout.
My Verdict on Sunset Boulevard
You must see this production. The reaction at the curtain call was like nothing I have ever experienced. The balcony gave a full, spontaneous, ovation which continued through at least three encore bows. The atmosphere was as electric as the performances themselves. To repeat myself: this is literally what I live for. Go go go, even if you sit in the very back row. I give Sunset Boulevard a rating of 5/5.