Sunset Boulevard

Theatre, Musicals
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 (© Richard Hubert Smith)
© Richard Hubert Smith

Glenn Close (Norma Desmond), Michael Xavier (Joe Gillis)

 (© Richard Hubert Smith)
© Richard Hubert Smith

Glenn Close (Norma Desmond), Michael Xavier (Joe Gillis)

 (© Richard Hubert Smith)
© Richard Hubert Smith

Glenn Close (Norma Desmond)

 (© Richard Hubert Smith)
© Richard Hubert Smith

Glenn Close (Norma Desmond)

 (© Richard Hubert Smith)
© Richard Hubert Smith
 (© Richard Hubert Smith)
© Richard Hubert Smith

Glenn Close (Norma Desmond), Julian Forsyth (Cecil B DeMille)

 (© Richard Hubert Smith)
© Richard Hubert Smith

Michael Xavier (Joe Gillis), Siobhan Dillon (Betty Shaefer)

Glenn Close is superb – if a little on the old side – as a fading screen goddess in Andrew Lloyd Webber's ho-hum musical

Glenn Close is so good in ENO’s semi-staged revival of ‘Sunset Boulevard’ that it almost feels rude to point out that a) like many later Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, ‘Sunset Boulevard’ is not brilliant b) 69-year-old Close is definitely a bit old to play 50 year-old silent movie star Norma Desmond.

Webber’s sung-through 1993 musical is an adaptation of the classic Billy Wilder film of the same name, and represents one of the Tory lord’s first attempts to detox from the dementedly excessive rock operas of his ‘70s/‘80s pomp.

Though Webber turns in an elegant, haunting theme and though he’s not actually responsible for the book or lyrics, ‘Sunset Boulevard’ shares the malaise of many of its author’s works, in that the psychology of the characters often appears to have been devised by somebody who has never met other humans. 

Set in 1950, the musical follows deadbeat Hollywood writer Joe (Michael Xavier), who finds himself down on his luck and chased by mob creditors. He takes refuge in a random mansion on the titular LA street, only to discover it’s the dwelling of Desmond, a forgotten but fabulously wealthy star of the silent age who has gone somewhat nuts in her isolation. She has an unwieldy vanity project script she’s working on as a comeback vehicle; he offers to edit it to get him out of his financial bind; the two become lovers.

The trouble with Don Black and Christopher Hampton’s book is that twists that feel more nuanced and somewhat tongue-in-cheek in the film come across as clanging and bombastic here. The huge age gap between 38-year-old Xavier and Close doesn’t help either, because whereas in the movie William Holden and Gloria Swanson are reasonably credible lovers, this basically feels like watching a manipulative thirtysomething take advantage of a mentally ill old woman.

But all caveats accepted, the quality of the performances are top-drawer: Xavier has a delightfully rumpled charisma, but Close – who it should be noted originated the role on Broadway in 1994 – is a force of nature. Her very first number, ‘Surrender’, is such a tour de force that the show needs to stop to catch its breath after, and she injects such tenderness and lambent humanity into her solo numbers as to almost humanise the unhinged Desmond. The full orchestra under Michael Reed sounds absolutely wonderful on one of Webber’s lushest and loveliest scores. And director Lonny Price’s dimly-lit, film noir-ish semi-staging works fantastically well – it feel like the whole thing is set in a claustrophobic movie studio.

It’s a classy show all round, but Webberphobes may wistfully wonder what this once-in-a-lifetime assemblage of talent could have done with a better musical.

By: Andrzej Lukowski


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Average User Rating

4.1 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:6
  • 4 star:7
  • 3 star:3
  • 2 star:1
  • 1 star:0
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In one word: AWESOME! Glenn Close was out of this world. What stage presence! The orchestra made this Lloyd Weber's musical sound almost like an operetta. The audience was thrilled it doesn't matter that this is not a fully staged production because the cast is so good they make you forget it. If you like Weber, go see it, if you like Glen Close, go see her. Go!

So much more powerful than the original 1990s Adelphi production.  The strength, and chemistry, between the two leading characters was solid throughout.  Listening to a full orchestra play the score and having them centre stage gave the piece further strength and captivation.  Wasn't keen on the nature of the (very limited) set - a slightly more modern look on scaffolding.

Glenn Close gave such a convincing performance as Norma Desmond, but the "over-the-top" audience reaction to the key lines swamped some of the dialogue and was totally unnecessary.  Michael Xavier as Joe Gillis was superb and at not point was he upstaged by the Hollywood glamour of his co-star.

Just a shame that it's such a short run.  Hope ENO earns well from this production, you should do considering ticket prices.  Let's have more musicals at the Coliseum.


After going to (very few) wonderful musicals these last years, I guess I forgot how the average, ‘classic’ musicals are really, really boring. The acting is good; Glenn Close is the worst singer there, and she’s not bad at all; the settings, the visual presence of the orchestra, at the back, were definitely beautifully done; but all of that does not make up for the fact that the play is simply dull and the music uninspired (besides incredibly repetitive).

The ‘conflict’ is rather dated, and the love story predictable. I’m guessing you’re supposed to feel bad about Glenn Close’s character, but she’s basically a delusional bully – it’s very hard to care about her.
The play is considered a classic, and if you’re really a fan of musicals I guess you might like it. But if you’re not... Seriously, don’t bother.

Excellent all round. Well staged, slick production, and actually really moving in parts.

After inadvertently buying ridiculously overpriced tickets via this site (encore tickets), I was shocked to get the tickets with a 42 pound surcharge. Shame on the company for saying no additional charges on the website. That being said, Glenn Close is simply far too old and is really no longer suitable for this part. It was rather like watching Kiss of the Spiderwoman at times. Her voice was terrible and she was truly the weak link in an otherwise very good production. I liked the more casual sets and thought of hey worked well and the orchestra was wonderful! Michael Xavier was very good as the writer.

I went to see Sunset Blvd last night, booked after hearing Ms Glenn Close talking to Graham Norton about reprising the role. I had read that she has been unwell recently so was not sure if I would get to see her perform. I have read that her understudy is also amazing.. but I was not disappointed. Glenn was amazing! She totally blew me away with her performance..

I loved the stage.. to have the orchestra in the stage setting was amazing.. the music was fabulous.

In-fact, no-one disappointed.. Fred Johanson was outstanding.. Loved it all.. and the performance was more than worthy of a standing ovation. 


Got a ticket after the hype thrown my way by several friends. To have the ENO orchestra as the backing, and at the back of the stage throughout is interesting and works really well to set the mood of the time and the piece. 

The staging is fantastic when considering there are no backdrops or projected scenes and just a few props wheeled on and off. They still really manage to capture each set in its own right and you get transported from place to place even though the set may have changed by a sofa or a chandelier. The big pull is clearly Glenn Close who was just fantastic despite having pulled out just 3 days earlier due to the flu. She has a wonderful voice but then so do all the leading characters, especially Max who has such a deep richness to his tone that I got gooosebumps. At this stage in the run you'd be lucky to secure a ticket but it really is a powerful and enrapturing production. 

I completely agree with the review below mine - though I got to see Glenn Close do her thing on the night. The cast was really something, and did very well with the material they had, but boy, was it difficult for me to get behind the story and the lyrics. Blah. I plan to watch the original film to get a flavour of what they were going for - albeit taking into consideration that Andrew Lloyd Webber is behind the musical, it's no doubt going to be a bit different. The orchestra was superb, though, and considering that I only paid £20, I'm not complaining, but I wouldn't recommend it.

Unfortunately, Glenn Close was 'indisposed' which was a shame but her understudy was pretty amazing and shone in the role. Michael Xavier was very powerful too. Sadly, the musical felt really dated and bland though and came across as a little trite and mawkish with lots of samey songs, cheesy lyrics and a lack of atmosphere or dramatic tension. Great performances from the cast and orchestra but I struggled with the material. 


Glenn Close is predictably excellent in this semi (but impressively) staged production of Lloyd-Webber's epic tale of an ageing, bonkers actress's attempting to make a return (not a comeback) to Hollywood.

The sweeping score is magnificently performed by the ENO's orchestra and Close fittingly hams it up to the rafters. She deserves an award for her contribution to camp, and gets 6 curtain calls and a lengthy standing ovation.

I'm ready for my close up!

The one person not there to take a bow was Andrew Lloyd Weber. His soaring music, emotionally charged, and executed by a magnificent ENO orchestra, deserved star rating. Glenn Close carried the role of Norma off in a sympathetic performance, in which she excelled in playing the worn out Norma, and her performance was that much better for 'getting on a bit' herself.

What a magnificent theatre as well. My first visit and and hopefully not my last.

Wow Glenn Close is amazing in the role. Her actual age didn't detract from her performance as 50 year old fading silent movie star Norma Desmond (which some critics have complained about).  And the male lead was excellent - what a feast for the eyes in his teeny tiny swimming shorts at the start of the second act. Of course his singing was good too. 

I am not a fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals on the whole but this wonderful show almost made me forgive him the turgid, toe-curling evening of Nicole Scherzinger in Cats a while ago (I'll never get that three hours back). If you love old-fashioned Hollywood glamour and in particular Glenn Close, get along for this great show while she's still in town.


Glenn Close - A living acting myth on stage...

Andrew Lloyd Webber - The master of musicals....

Symphony-sized orchestra of 48 musicians  - believe me this doesn't happen often...

London Coliseum - One of the best theatre in West End

What else do you need?...

With tickets starting from 12£, you should be crazy not to go & see this musical that already has given "best actress in a musical" awards to Glenn Close.  

In one word: AWESOME! Glenn Close was out of this world. What stage presence! The orchestra made this Lloyd Weber's musical sound almost like an operetta. The audience was thrilled it doesn't matter that this is not a fully staged production because the cast is so good they make you forget it. If you like Weber, go see it, if you like Glen Close, go see her. Go!


Glenn Close was incredible in this old Hollywood style Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. I felt the whole cast were wonderful singers and in particular I enjoyed the group musical numbers. The orchestra was also a star of the show and was showcased in the middle of the stage. It took me a little while to get into the story, but by the end the whole cast was getting a well-deserved standing ovation.


What an absolute privilege to see Glenn Close on stage - she has a presence about her and commands the stage in a way I have never seen before.  The supporting cast are very strong too and their performances are extremely polished.  The music is fantastic and it’s worth going just to hear the amazing orchestra.  The show is quite intense but beautifully told.  The staging is very impressive and I thought it was really innovative.  However, there is no doubt that Glenn Close is the main reason to see this play - so go while you still can!

Glenn Close, a true world star live on stage in the Westend, excellent performance and an amazingly good singer, too!

The rest of the cast is also very well choosen. An all-out enjoyable evening with deserved standing ovations for all!