Thunderous applause welcomes the mere sight of Glenn Close as she sashays on stage with her fiery red hair and glittering kimono, every inch dripping with diamonds. With one look Close has the audience captivated as she delivers the timeless line ‘I am still big, it’s the pictures that got small!’ with a wild-eyed conviction that gives this classic musical a new lease of life early on.
Close makes a truly triumphant return as Norma Desmond, the role that won her a Tony Award on Broadway in 1995, marking her West End debut at the stunning London Coliseum in Sunset Boulevard last night. The semi-staged production, a revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical version of the 1950 Billy Wilder film, is pure magic thanks to the ENO’s 48-strong orchestra taking centre stage, led by Michael Reed. With no real set, the whole production takes place amongst scaffolding and staircases around the orchestra; a stripped-back setting that only enhances the impeccable score.
The story, adapted by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, sees Norma Desmond, the faded, reclusive star of the silent screen, attempt to make a great ‘return’ with the help of young, handsome screenwriter Joe Gillis, smoothly played by Michael Xavier, who she enlists to edit her comeback script, a movie of Salome. In the surrounds of her dilapidated gothic pile, Close delivers a shimmering performance, while her faithful servant Max, played by the truly wonderful Fred Johanson, is the understated star of the night as he masterminds this fantasy world with spine-tingling conviction.
Perhaps the biggest triumph of the evening is the crowd-pleasing love song to the studios, ‘As if we never said goodbye’, a most moving moment as we see this tragic, fallen star falsely convinced her script is going to be made. We watch in awe as Close seduces us with her mesmerising performance that carries right up to the rafters, seemingly transforming into this maddened, vulnerable creature as she manipulates her much younger lover, Joe, to stay with her, or is it he who is manipulating her as he practically spits the lyrics of the title track?
There is no doubt the presence of true Hollywood royalty bolsters this once imperfect musical, but Close deserves every bit of the standing ovation she received, unafraid to be vulnerable and exposed as she commands the stage, breathing new life into Sunset Boulevard.
Sunset Boulevard runs at the London Coliseum until 7th May. Click here to buy tickets.
Images: Richard Hubert Smith