Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Book & Lyrics by Don Black & Christopher Hampton.
Based on the Billy Wilder film.
The Coliseum to 07 May
St Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4ES to 7 May 2016.
Mon- Sat 2.30pm. Mat Tues Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 40 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7836 0111.
Close encounters with a star
The main reason for going to see this concert version of the Lloyd Webber musical based on Billy Wilder’s famous film is its star – Glenn Close. Is she reason enough?
The lady can still sing – she is, after all approaching 70 and voices do fade. But when the notes are tricky she simply speak sings the lines and the sound designer works wonders.
As with all musicals these days what you get is what the designer gives you. Norma has lots of songs, but the vocal range is not all that vast. They sound as if the singer soars, but actually it is the orchestra that does that. Nothing wrong, of course. Merman’s songs were often tailored for her voice by the likes of Berlin.
Her costumes, with a couple of stunningly frumpy exceptions, are gorgeous which means you do look at her when she is on, almost always slap bang in the middle or Making an Entrance with a follow spot.
But at times it could be anybody down there. The magic she had as a screen or TV actress, the image by which we know her by, that face, so important for silent screen stars, and what Norma insists she has, is not there. An experienced stage actress Close played the role to acclaim on Broadway getting a Tony award, but whether we are seeing something unique and breathtaking is another matter.
Some have found her mesmerising. She is certainly professional but there are arguably half a dozen West End ladies rather nearer Norma’s age who could do it no bother at all. What they could not do, however, is put bottoms on seats, although why people who would not cross the road to go to a Close movie these days should pay West End prices to see her on stage is one of those mysteries of the world of entertainment. The run will tell whether she can.
A variety of leading ladies was the recipe used to save the original production which opened with Patti Lupone followed by a series of maturing divas.
On the plus side there are an effective skeletal set, one of those wrought iron affairs all platforms and staircases which allow for exits and entrances galore; briskly efficient direction by Lonny Price who has clearly worked out what to do after last year’s fairly frightful Sweeney Todd; and Stephen Mear’s energetic and well choreographed ensemble. The biggest plus of all, however, is the splendid English National Opera orchestra, not another musical pit band thumping it out, playing like a dream and making the score sound far better than it really is.
As always with a Lloyd Weber show this is essentially a one big ballad affair with lots of sung dialogue. Ms Close plays demented faded screen diva Norma Desmond dreaming of a comeback after years of oblivion who has an unlucky love affair with a toy boy screenwriter. When he ditches her she shoots him and collapses into insanity. She gets decent support from Michael Xavier as Joe Gillis, the toy boy lover; Siobhan Dillon does what she can with the thankless role of the pretty would-be screenwriter Betty he also lets down; Fred Johanson is sonorous and sinister as Max, Norma’s devoted butler, former husband and chauffeur. The original West End production had lavish sets which overwhelmed things. This pared down concert version is an improvement, although it also demonstrates the show was clearly conceived as a sort of Evita lite follow up to its predecessor. For the real story about Norma, go see the movie and see what a silent screen star looked like.
Norma Desmond: Glenn Close.
Joe Gillis: Michael Xavier.
Max on Meyerling: Fred Johanson.
Betty Schaefer: Siobhan Dillon.
Artie Green: Haydn Oakley.
Cecil B DeMille: Julian Forsyth.
Sheldrake: Mark Goldthorp.
Manfred: Fenton Gray.
Ensemble: Carly Anderson; Michelle Bishop; Emily Bull; Jacob Chapman; Katie Kerr; Aaron Lee Lambert; Matthew McKenna; James Paterson; Tanya Robb; Ashley Robinson; Vicki Lee Taylor; Gary Tushaw; Adam Vaughan; Anna Woodside.
Director: Lonny Price.
Conductor: Michael Reed.
Associate Director: Matt Cowart.
Costume Designer: Tracy Christiansen.
Set Designer: James Noone.
Glenn Close’s costume & wigs: Anthony Powell.
Lighting Designer: Mark Henderson.
Choreographer: Stephen Mear.
Sound Designer: Mick Potter.
Orchestrations: Adam Fisher, David Cullen & Andrew Lloyd Webber.