You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

London Theater Review: Glenn Close in ‘Sunset Boulevard’

Carly Anderson, Michelle Bishop, Emily Bull, Jacob Chapman, Glenn Close, Siobhan Dillon, Julian Forsyth, Mark Goldthorp, Fenton Gray, Katie Kerr, Fred Johanson, Aaron Lee Lambert, Haydn Oakley, James Paterson, Tanya Robb, Ashley Robinson, Vicki Lee Taylor, Gary Tushaw, Adam Vaughan, Anna Woodside, Michael Xavier.

Sunset Boulevard” made Glenn Close an icon of musical theater. Twenty-three years later, at age 69, she returns to a part that, she claims, has “haunted” her ever since — former screen icon Norma Desmond, hidden away in her hilltop mansion and pining for her old star status. The extra years change Desmond, and make Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical less credible, but more creepy and more poignant, than the original Billy Wilder film.

In space, stars take a million years to burn out; in Hollywood, little more than a decade. Written as a faded fiftysomething, Norma Desmond was the embodiment of that: A woman slung out on the scrap heap, old before her time. Here, pushing 70 (though the script still insists otherwise), she becomes something else: a mad woman in the attic of the Hollywood Hills. Her self-delusion about the possibility of a return, with a self-penned star vehicle, becomes inescapable; her romantic advances on Joe Gillis (Michael Xavier), the writer she’s hired to sort out her script, borderline unpalatable. He is, after all, half her age.

Ideas of icons and immortality, celluloid as an elixir of youth, fall into focus. Close gives you the sense that, deep down, Norma knows. When she returns to her old studio, there’s a brief flicker of recognition that the world has moved on, even a marvel at its modernity. Tracy Christensen’s black and white outfit splits her in two: one side, still glam; the other, a post-lobotomy patient.

To start, Close teases us with an impression of madness, eyes rolling back, hands fluttering, laying her pet chimpanzee to rest. Her skill is to fill in the foundations afterwards. She can be prickly and regal, brittle and shrill, but we also get glimpses of her younger self in the odd smile or moment of tenderness. It’s enough to raise the possibility that, despite the age gap, Joe might just see something in her — something more than the clothes and cocktails and days by the pool. That he forgets about his art — and, with it, his attractive writing partner Betty (Siobhan Dillon) — is a mark of the way money corrupts. A knot of chandeliers hang from the ceiling in James Noone’s design, suggesting excess can breed eccentricity.

This is a semi-staged production, played on a vast sound stage with a full orchestra on show. A huge wrought-iron staircase spiders over their heads and director Lonny Price goes all-out gothic, with Mark Henderson delivering the noirish lighting and plenty of shadows for Fred Johanson’s Lurch-like butler to lurk in. At first, you feel short-changed — rather too aware of English National Opera’s financial problems — but in time, what starts as a concert in costume slowly begins to exert itself.

The bare-stage simplicity lets your imagination do the work and leaves all the ambiguity intact. Without a grand gothic mansion imposing itself, it can be both sweet and sour, macabre and romantic. Close’s Norma is both endearing and deranged; Xavier’s Joe, cowardly, exploitative and kind. Played this simply, the story starts to shimmer.

It’s Lloyd Webber’s score that really benefits, sumptuously arranged for a full orchestra and sung with real expression throughout. You hear the thinking behind his compositions: the silkiness set against shrillness; sincere strings that knock into suave saxophones. He evokes sweeping silent movie scores and lets characters pick up one another’s themes. Freed of the need to cohere onstage, with a nimble staging to match the darts of Don Black and Christopher Hampton’s book, you get to hear “Sunset Boulevard” for what it is — not for what usually gets in its way.

London Theater Review: Glenn Close in 'Sunset Boulevard'

Collisseum, London; 2359 seats; £105, $150 top. Opened, reviewed April 4, 2016. Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MIN.

Production: An English National Opera production of a musical in two acts by Andrew Lloyd Webber with a book by Don Black and Christopher Hampton.

Creative: Directed by Lonny Price; Conducted by Michael Reed; Set design, James Noone; Costume design, Tracy Christensen; lighting, Mark Henderson; sound, Mick Potter; orchestrations, David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber; choreography, Stephen Mear.

Cast: Carly Anderson, Michelle Bishop, Emily Bull, Jacob Chapman, Glenn Close, Siobhan Dillon, Julian Forsyth, Mark Goldthorp, Fenton Gray, Katie Kerr, Fred Johanson, Aaron Lee Lambert, Haydn Oakley, James Paterson, Tanya Robb, Ashley Robinson, Vicki Lee Taylor, Gary Tushaw, Adam Vaughan, Anna Woodside, Michael Xavier.

More Legit

  • Bryan Cranston First Time in Variety

    Bryan Cranston on His Early Roles, Dealing With Rejection and His 'Erasable Mind'

    Following his 2014 Tony Award for best actor as President Lyndon B. Johnson in Robert Schenkkan’s play “All the Way,” Bryan Cranston is looking to add to his trophy collection this year with his performance as Howard Beale in “Network.” The deranged anchorman — who’s famously “mad as hell and not going to take this [...]

  • Ink Play West End London

    Wary Theater Rivalry Between London and New York Gives Way to a Boom in Crossovers

    Give or take a little tectonic shift, the distance between London and New York still stands at 3,465 miles. Arguably, though, the two theater capitals have never been closer. It’s not just the nine productions playing in duplicate in both locations — believed to be the most ever — with three more expected in the [...]

  • Alex Brightman Beetlejuice Broadway

    How Alex Brightman Brought a Pansexual Beetlejuice to Life on Broadway

    Alex Brightman gives the deadliest performance on Broadway — in a good way — in “Beetlejuice.” The big-budget musical adaptation of the 1988 film directed by Tim Burton has scored eight Tony nominations, including best actor. To play the frisky role, Brightman (“School of Rock”) dons Beetlejuice’s striped suit and an assortment of colorful wigs [...]

  • Santino Fontana Tootsie Broadway Illustration

    'Tootsie' Star Santino Fontana on the Challenges of His Tony-Nominated Dual Role

    Santino Fontana is doing double duty on Broadway this year. The “Tootsie” star scored his second Tony Award nomination this month for his hilarious portrayal of struggling actor Michael Dorsey and Dorothy Michaels, the female persona that Dorsey assumes to win a role in a play. The musical, based on the 1982 comedy starring Dustin [...]

  • Dear Evan Hansen

    Broadway Cast Albums Find Fresh Footing With Hip New Sounds, Viral Outreach

    Mixtapes. YouTube videos. Dedicated playlists. Ancillary products. Viral marketing. Epic chart stays. These are things you expect to hear from a record label discussing Cardi B or Beyoncé. Instead, this is the new world of a very old staple, the Broadway original cast recording. Robust stats tell the tale: Atlantic’s “Hamilton” album beat the record [...]

  • Ali Stroker Oklahoma

    Ali Stroker on 'Oklahoma!': 'This Show Doesn’t Follow the Rules and That Is So Who I Am'

    Ali Stroker is no stranger to rewriting history. With her 2015 Broadway debut in “Spring Awakening,” she became the first actor in a wheelchair to perform on the Great White Way. Three years later, she’s back onstage in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” as Ado Annie, the flirtatious local who splits her affections between a resident [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content