Sunset Boulevard

Posted on: 07 January 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

Laurence Green reviews Sunset Boulevard at the Comedy Theatre.

The most underrated of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals, namely Sunset Boulevard, is back in the West End in a poignant and compelling new production directed by Craig Revel Horwood at the Comedy Theatre.

Norma Desmond was the greatest silent movie star of them all until the advent of the talkies made her a has-been. Joe Gillis was a struggling young screenwriter until, by chance, he pulled his car into the driveway of 10086 Sunset Boulevard and was lured into her crazy fantasy world. Indeed this chance encounter was to change their lives forever.

Lloyd Webber’s stunning musical adaption of Billy Wilder’s classic 1950 film, with book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, was originally staged in 1993 and this pared down but more involving revival, first seen at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury in the summer, is blessed with sharp wit and a marvellously talented ensemble.

Indeed the small band on stage double as actors enacting the drama one minute and playing their varied musical instruments the next. At first this is rather disconcerting but we are soon caught up in the haunting world of the golden age of Hollywood with its highs and, more frequently, its heartbreaks.

What, however, distinguishes this musical is that it contains one of Lloyd Webber’s most memorable scores in which the superbly ominous theme music is juxtaposed with great ballads and even a few comedy numbers.

Although this is a musical with an epic story, it is intimate in nature, with a spiral staircase and a chaise longue working wonders in suggesting both the turbulent world of Hollywood and the claustrophobic, faded grandeur of the world of Norma Desmond.

Craig Revel Horwood, whom most people will know as a particularly critical judge on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, here proves particularly adept as a director of musical theatre, extracting first rate performances from Kathryn Evans, who, with her strange, wild eyes and extravagant hand gestures and combination of hope and loneliness, perfectly brings out the imperiousness and vulnerability of Norma Desmond while singing with power and passion and the equally commendable Ben Goddard who succeeds in capturing the self-loathing and cynicism of her toy-boy lover Joe Gillis.

In short then, this sparkling show could be with us for quite some time.

By Laurence Green

Show Details

Where: Comedy Theatre, London

Box Office: 0870 060 6637 or 0844 847 2345

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