Review: Sunset Boulevard, Savoy Theatre

Jamie Lloyd has rarely been better than in this extraordinary revival of Sunset Boulevard at the Savoy Theatre, led by an exceptional Rachel Tucker

“So many roads still unexplored”

For me, Nicole Scherzinger will always be the X Factor judge who, when hers stopped working, took her contestant’s mike and walked away, in the final of the damn show he was trying to win. Such self-involved ego has served her well though, bulldozing through any lingering concerns about her behaviour over the years but my level of pettiness means that I was out as soon as she was announced as leading Jamie Lloyd’s revival of Sunset Boulevard. Fortunately, the later reveal of Rachel Tucker as her alternate meant that I got to see the show and still hold onto my principles!

I’m glad it worked out because it is quite the phenomenal production, no real surprise to anyone at this late stage in the game. Who knew what Jamie Lloyd would make of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical? Certainly not something so intensely stylish, refreshingly contemporary and featuring one of the all-time greatest sequences in modern musical theatre with its bravura second act opener. Using live video is nothing new at this point but the way in which we track Tom Francis’ Joe from dressing rooms out through to The Strand and back onto the stage, singing live all the while, is just chef’s kiss.

It is symptomatic of Lloyd’s growth as a creator and director, being able to marry his more outré tendencies and the sheer level of his inventiveness with serving material that truly benefits from it. Sunset Boulevard may contain some cracking songs but it really isn’t a great musical, the chirpy company patter songs here are particularly egregious. But somehow, through the kinetic energy of Fabian Aloise’s choreography and the monochrome stylishness of Soutra Gilmour’s set and costumes, the music proves almost incidental as the production so firmly dictates the tone.

Tucker nails the barnstorming musical moments of ‘With One Look’ and ‘New Ways to Dream’ but the psychology of the approach to her character is what really impresses. A reclusive silent movie star daring to dream of a comeback, she plays brilliantly with the camera that is always following her around, even as it magnifies and distorts her image. Flirting mercilessly with Francis’ Joe (the dancing…!), enabled by her factotum Max (David Thaxton) and haunted by her younger self (a fantastic Hannah Yun Chamberlain), it is a scorchingly good reinterpretation of a character so often thrust into grande dame territory. A brilliant revival.

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