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How we reported Sunset Boulevard’s (second) opening night in the West End – 25 years ago in The Stage

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Twenty-five years ago, we reviewed the second West End press night of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard, after some changes were made to the score and Betty Buckley replaced Patti LuPone in the lead role.

“Never, in 40 years of regular theatregoing, do I remember a show that has had two first nights inside a year, the second even more eagerly awaited than the first…” remarked our critic (and former editor) Peter Hepple. “Sunset Boulevard II seems better than the first.

“The excesses of John Napier’s churrigueresque mansion design have been toned down… there are more grainy film sequences involving cars. There is, if I am not mistaken, less dialogue and more underscoring. The result is that the characters are less swamped by the setting, not only the leading roles of Norma Desmond, Joe Gillis and Max von Mayerling but that of Betty Schaefer, who has developed more personality in the hands of Anita Louise Combe.

“Buckley draws out more facets of the character, not just her monstrous ego but her childish vulnerability. This is also reflected in her singing voice, belting and defiant in her first big song, With One Look, but tender and pathetic in some of the other numbers… John Barrowman, the most promising British young leading man for many a year, makes an excellent impression as Joe.”


If you’d like to read more stories from the history of theatre, all previous content from The Stage is available at the British Newspaper Archive in a convenient, easy-to-access format. Please visit: thestage.co.uk/archive [2]

Sunset Boulevard review at Curve, Leicester – ‘Ria Jones owns the show’ [3]