The reviews for Nicole Sherzinger in her second outing in the West End (‘Cats’ was her first) in ‘Sunset Boulevard’ are in, and her performance has been called ‘captivating’,’a bravura performance,’ as well as ‘Sherzinger smashes it.’ It’s a performance you will unlikely forget in a show that you will also unlikely forget.
Sherzinger plays aging Hollywood film star Norma Desmond. Forget what you know about the previous productions and the 1950 classic hit film. This is an entirely different retelling. Sherzinger in no way looks like an ageing movie star, but to perfection she nails it nonetheless, and it’s obvious from the beginning that this show is all about Sherzinger/Norma, while the rest of the cast also gives us their best in Jamie Lloyd’s re-imagining of this classic.
Tom Francis plays young and penniless screenwriter Joe Gillis who by chance meets Norma, and he immediately accepts the job Norma has offered him, to write the script for her comeback film. And to make it all the more interesting, she puts him up in the apartment over her garage, and becomes attached to him quickly, even questioning when he goes out. But her butler Max (David Thaxton) has seen this all before (he is Norma’s ex-husband), and sublimely warns Joe about what may become of this ‘working’ relationship. Soon enough Joe starts to fall for a local actress, who happens to be married to one of his friends, all the while Norma is dreaming about her big comeback, while it seems all of Hollywood is snickering about this behind her back. And after you blink your eyes through all the imagery and closeups and the black and white hue Joe and Norma end up in a relationship which complicates matters for everyone involved, but mostly for Joe, as we all know what happens, as the show opens up, and ends with, this.
But it’s in the telling of the story, and not the actual story, that makes this production a tour de force. Using an onstage camera, Lloyd is able to pull off the masterstroke of allowing us to see, up close and personal, warts and all (which live theatre can’t) the faces of the actors, the emotion, the sorrow, the lust, combining the art of live theatre with video in a visually stunning production (there is a large screen over the stage). With this, and the performances, we hardly take notice that there is absolutely no set on stage, no grand staircase, no furniture, and not even a room. And the spectacle continues with the start of the second act when a camera follows Tom Francis’ Gillis walking through the backstage dressing rooms and passing fellow cast members while walking outside and back into the theatre, all the meanwhile singing, and it blurs the line between what the show is about and a wink and nod to the audience to let them know it’s just a show it’s just a show. I am not sure why this is as it takes us away from the dramatic tone of the show, but immediately after we get Scherzinger who sings ‘As if We Never Said Goodbye.’ Both songs received rapturous standing ovations on opening night – I’ve never seen this happen before. And as the show continues, we accept the fact that we are witnessing something special here. It’s a bold, bold production that takes liberties with the stage and the concept of live theatre, but everyone involved ’smashes’ it. While Francis is in all the scenes in the first half and most in the second half, it’s Scherzinger as Desmond who you will not be able to forget long after you’ve left the theatre.