SUNSET BLVD – Awarded Five Stars *****

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This is without doubt one of the greatest theatrical experiences of a long time.

Tickets from £32 http://www.theatreperform.entstix.com/tickets/sunset-boulevard – www.eno.org – Playing until 7th May.

Images of Hollywood were projected against a white screen, which went up to reveal the solitary figure of Michael Xavier, a down-at-heel Hollywood scriptwriter, without a commission and soon to be without a bed for the night. Behind him sits the fifty-one piece orchestra under the lightning baton of Michael Reed. The stage is flanked with fire-escape steps. Xavier has a relaxed confidential style as he takes us on this incredible journey behind tinsel town`s shattered dreams. His sensitive performance as a man struggling to maintain his dream, coupled with a most glorious voice marks him as our finest musical theatre actor.

But then a pyramid of chandeliers come floating down , the lights flicker and Norma Desmond (Glenn Close) slowly transcends the staircase. The ovation she receives on her entrance is richly deserved. Having played the part on Broadway, 20 years ago, she brings all the experience of a great artist to the role. Close is haughty ,flirtatious, scheming and yet very vulnerable. She surprises you at every turn. When you think she is going to be tempestuous, she is quiet, and when you think she is going to be quiet she`s at full throttle.  The role is demanding vocally, but Close with her crystal clear diction conveys a myriad of emotions.

This is Lloyd Webber`s finest score. The music ranges from jazz to tango and samba rhythms to arias almost on an operatic scale in its scale of depth and emotion. The librettist Don Black described Lloyd Webber as: `not so much a composer but a musical dramatist` . Every song furthers the action or reveals the character a little more. Indeed the libretto by Black and Christopher Hampton is seamless, the recitative and the big numbers seem to come effortlessly out of the action, rather like a libretto in a Mozart opera. One of the most heart-breaking moments is when Norma pays a visit to her old director Cecil B. De Mille,(Julian Forsyth) under the allusion he is going to hire her again.

The other stand-out performance was from Fred Johanson as her loyal family retainer. In a rich bass-baritone Johanson sings of when he was Norma`s first husband and a promising young director in Hollywood.

Review by Stewart Permutt.

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