First Night: Sunset Boulevard: Glitz and glamour, but little charisma

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The Independent Online
THE GLITZIEST premiere of the year ensured that the Strand last night was considerably more glamorous than the real Sunset Boulevard on any night.

As the curtain went down on Andrew Lloyd Webber's new pounds 3m musical, the 50-yard dash from the Adelphi Theatre to the Savoy Hotel for the lavish after-show dinner and dance was a wave of sequins.

Among those taking the floor, though not necessarily with each other, were the 87-year-old director of the original film, Billy Wilder, Shirley Bassey, Cliff Richard, Jason Donovan, Betty Boothroyd, Neil Kinnock and Roger Moore.

On a day which saw the announced closure of City of Angels, also a musical about Hollywood, and one with rave reviews, it was not just the West End keeping its fingers crossed for the latest Lloyd Webber. As there is barely a moment in the day when one of his works is not playing somewhere in the world, the Treasury needs him to steady the balance of payments.

As it turned out, this was the hardest sort of show to make predictions about: thoroughly pleasant but unexceptional; enjoyably efficient performances but uncharismatic and surprisingly, not terribly moving in the most moving story of a faded silent movie star driven to distracted love for a young writer.

A coven of critics emerging at the end remarked that they were not humming and perhaps should have been, though the main Lloyd Webber tunes did contain the usual blend of swirling strings and emotion. There was praise for Trevor Nunn's crisp production and particularly John Napier's sumptuous sets.

Among the first night audience, the show prompted a host of resonances. Wilder, who directed the 1950 film noir with Gloria Swanson and William Holden, was delighted by the stage adaptation. 'It was a terrific show and it was so faithful to the original,' he said.

Cliff Richard said: 'It's about an ageing star, so you could say it strikes a chord.'

'I was called Gloria after Gloria Swanson,' Gloria Hunniford, the television presenter, said as she was interviewed in the foyer in Hollywood style by her television presenter daughter.

'It was great, a little slow, but wonderful,' Jason Donovan, who starred in Lloyd Webber's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, said.

Others just gazed across the stalls at their idols. The dancer Wayne Sleep, who has seen the movie 80 times, was happy enough to be in the same auditorium as Billy Wilder.

If Lloyd Webber's show inspires such loyalty, the recession-hit West End will rejoice.