(SECOND) FIRST NIGHT / Hope dawns for Sunset Boulevard: 'Sunset Boulevard'; Adelphi Theatre

ANDREW Lloyd Webber's musical from Billy Wilder's film opened last night to a standing ovation from a celebrity audience. It was not to be confused with Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical from Billy Wilder's film which opened nine months ago to a standing ovation from a celebrity audience.

It's difficult to remember another show in the history of West End theatre to have two first nights with all the trimmings.

This one came armed with American audience glitz in the shape of Ivana Trump and Geena Davis, a new set, new Lloyd Webber song, new leading lady and leading man, pounds 1m lost box office revenue for the three-week closure of the theatre while the show was revamped, a pounds 500,000 bill for the revamp, and a possible lawsuit pending which could make all that look like small beer. No wonder the after-show party was drinks and buffet at Planet Hollywood rather than the lavish banquet at the Savoy which followed opening number one.

The show looked an improvement on the one that got decidedly mixed reviews last summer. The black and white set replacing the David Hockney-style primary colours had a more appropriate cinematic feel; the new song 'Every Movie's A Circus' was, for Lloyd Webber devotees, a heady example of his dramatic and melodic swirl; and both the American actress Betty Buckley, with a powerful and emotional delivery as the ageing film star, and John Barrowman, as her youthful lover, won standing ovations. Sir Andrew said after the show: 'I'm immensely pleased. Betty was an absolute delight.'

The on-stage drama of the star actress living with rejection has been near eclipsed in the run-up to this first night by the off-stage drama of the star actress living with rejection. The much admired Patti Lupone, who opened the London production last year, was refused the chance to open the show on Broadway by Lloyd Webber. It will star Glenn Close instead. Miss Lupone says this is a breach of her contract.

Last Sunday she was in the audience at the Olivier Awards and received sympathetic applause from fellow actors moments before Betty Buckley performed a number from the show. What with recovering from a bout of flu and the spectre of Patti Lupone still hovering over the show, Miss Buckley's performance last night was a considerable triumph.

But then someone who can expound as she did in an interview recently, 'Specifically, I try to bring to a role a focus of the consciousness of the universality we all share, by a re-arrangement of my own personal experience which comes from a philosophy of understanding that's about oneness, that we're all on this earth together and that we are all, in essence, the same being', is clearly of a sufficiently philosophical bent to withstand the dramas that surround a new (ish) Lloyd Webber musical.

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