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BOULEVARD


Music by Andrew Lloyd-Webber Book and Lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton Based on the Billy Wilder film


London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane London WC2N 4ES 020 7845 9300 Reviewed by Jarlath O’Connell


© RICHARD HUBERT SMITH M


ore than twenty years after her Tony winning triumph in the


part, Glenn Close hits town in a shim- mering revival of Sunset Boulevard. She plays the forgotten screen siren Norma Desmond who draws a cyni- cal, down-on-his-luck, young screen- writer, Joe Gillis (Michael Xavier), into her web as she plots a comeback in a very unlikely remake of Salome. While Close is unquestionably the


star, what distinguishes this produc- tion, which runs for a month at the ENO, is the ENO’s own magnificent 48 piece orchestra, under the baton of Michael Reed. It’s a musical with a sym- phony orchestra and never before has Lloyd-Webber’s best score sounded so luscious or indeed so filmic. It is the second, semi-staged col-


laboration between the ENO and impresario Michael Grade, following last year’s Sweeney Todd, providing much needed packed houses for this troubled company during a period when the Coliseum would be dark or rented out to visiting companies. Long may this venture continue? Lonny Price’s nimble direction is the other key to its success. The orchestra are on stage and James Noone’s scaffolding staircases (you MUST have a staircase) and a few props conjure up the high baroque,


gloomy, Hollywood mansion. In the original the huge lumbering set killed the pace of the show but here, liberated from all that, we are able to focus on the performances and appreciate Lloyd-Webber’s


perfect


mingling of lush Puccini-esque arias with tangos and congas. Everyone leaves humming. Despite this vibrant revamp the


show remains a collision of styles which never fully cohere. Billy Wild- er’s dry, acerbic 1950s movie was bleak and introspective and was never going to be a good match for the florid musical theater treatment it’s given here. While the book is well crafted, the lyrics, particularly the too frequent recitative, often grate. Film noir musicals have worked


elsewhere but not when fused with a lush campiness. Anthony Powell’s much praised costumes for Norma don’t help, too often resembling a drag queen having a day at home. If you camp-up Norma at one level, how can you then ground her in the real world at the same time, which is what Ms Close attempts here. She even throws away the classic line “I am big, it’s the pictures that got small”. Close always seemed miscast in this role, which requires a vamp soprano. She’s always been more


Myrna Loy than Merle Oberon, too cerebral and guarded for the blousy Norma. The great numbers which have made the piece so loved, ‘With One Look’ or ‘As if We Never Said Goodbye’ are towering, but vocally challenging and Close quivers on the high notes. She has the acting chops to deliver them but you long for a soprano in full killer mode, even if that would compromise the realism. Still, she brilliantly captures Norma’s cunning and wide-eyed girlishness and that lethal combination of ram- paging ego and clawing neediness that inevitably ends in tragedy. She never tips over into the grotesque, which is a great achievement here. Xavier, who is quickly becoming


a West End star, is commanding as the unsympathetic Joe. The produc- tion shamelessly objectifies him, be it in a scanty wet swim suit or being stripped down for a fitting. This backfires though as it only serves to remind us that he’s more matinee idol than scruffy scribe. Siobhan Dil- lon is sweet-voiced and charming as his love interest and their talent man- ages to really lift the love duet ‘Too Much in Love to Care’ which goes unremarked in most productions. UPDATE: Ria Jones reprises her Lloyd-Webber work- shop as Desmond after Close taken ill: a Star is Born.


The American 65


SUNSET


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