Well this wasn’t intended to be our 5th in the series of shows-missed-first-time round as we were due to be at The Suicide at the National Theatre but that was cancelled due to laryngitis. Javone Prince’s who plays the lead role – not ours.
And Sunset Boulevard? Well, Phil saw it first time round with Patti LuPone and then Elaine Paige but not Glenn Close who did it on the Broadway some 20 plus years ago, so it does fit our theme. Sorta.
Anyhoo, Ms Close “makes her West End debut” according to the publicity, Phil saw her Blanche Dubois at the National 14 years ago so is this strictly her West End debut? Discuss.
If you’ve not seen Billy Wilder‘s classic 1950 film on which this is based, then why not? Phil was out with a single-gentleman-of-a-certain-age the other night who was raving about Ms Close in this. Bizarrely he’d never seen the film. So for those who don’t know, it concerns Joe Gillis (Michael Xavier), a struggling Hollywood screen writer who’s found dead in the swimming pool of a faded Hollywood silent screen star, Norma Desmond (Close). The poor deluded thing believes she can make a comeback playing the lead in her self-penned doorstep of a script about Salome. Joe relates the story of how he received a gold cigarette case, a vicuña coat and a very damp end, though never explains how he acquired such big hair.
The book and lyrics are by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, the music is of course from Andrew Lloyd Webber who we have something of a history with, so you may well be wondering a) why we were there and b) why we were there.
It’s surprising what a big on-stage orchestra can do with what they’re given to work with. Kudos to conductor Michael Reed. The musical has more recycling than your average council can offer; motifs and tunes are repeated so often you can’t but help coming out humming them, Phil was certain he heard a bit of the Antiques Roadshow theme tune pop up in the Act 2 overture. Despite this the music does sound suitably haunting and sumptuous.
Close gets the two most memorable numbers; “With One Look” and “As If We Never Said Goodbye”. Pity she’s not a great singer. Phil had expected better given the glowing reviews, her Tony Award for the role and her history with the show. She may be a bit dodgy on some notes but that doesn’t stop her stopping the show as the audience goes potty. It’s not hard to feel sympathy for her given the vulnerability she brings to the part and there’s a real frisson seeing her sweeping up and down the staircases of James Noone’s set in increasingly outlandish costumes (by Anthony Powell) resembling a demented Fanny Cradock. Her final mad scene is riveting. Norma Desmond is Norma batty.
And though Lonny Price’s production is billed as a semi-staged it was closer to a full staging than we expected. Mark Henderson’s lighting is crepuscular and creepy, the costumes extravagant, Xavier and Siobhan Dillon (as Betty Schaefer) sing splendidly as does the ensemble (which we were delighted to see includes includes the Whinger-approved Katie Kerr). We’re also treated to a chandelier that looks as if it survived The Night Manager‘s opening credits, a gorgeous period car and a stuffed monkey, though it’s a shame Norma’s butler/chauffeur/dogsbody Max (Fred Johanson, excellent), has to mime playing the organ.
We must also add that the car chase is a bit rubbish, though not as rubbish as the dated, borderline offensive, unfunny, needs a rethink, “comedy” number”The Lady’s Paying” in which Joe is treated to a new wardrobe and dressed by a group of tailors with more mince than a Lidl meat cabinet.
Almost every review seems to have mentioned Xavier’s physique in Joe’s swimming trunks scene so we don’t need to.
The success of this production has created rumours of a Broadway transfer and this being Close’s “audition” for a possible film version, which will no doubt be her best stab at that elusive Oscar. Norma is meant to be 50 (incredibly Gloria Swanson had only just turned 50 when she started filming the original). Streisand’s Gypsy film project is rumoured to be back on so that might keep her out of the frame. Close is 69. Any bigger an age difference and her infatuation with Joe may seem more like a foetal attraction so they’d better move swiftly or she will only be ready for her close ups if they shoot the film through tweed.
There was definitely the feeling of being at an event, even Phil ovated (probably so he didn’t miss anything). On and on went the rapturous applause, and just when we thought we could go for a drink, on she came again. It was as if she’d never say goodbye.
We got very decent stalls seats just a few hours before curtain up and though not cheap, still cheaper than normally priced. People kept telling us it’s sold out. At time of writing there still seems to be plenty available.