No one would expect avant-garde superstar director Jamie Lloyd to handle 1991 musical Sunset Boulevard with misty-eyed tenderness – not least its brave and trusting parents Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black. And, of course, he doesn’t. Even so, there’s something shiver-inducingly thrilling about the way Lloyd thrusts this story into darkest night, setting it in a haunted Hollywood backlot where huge suggestive shadows loom and blood-soaked gothic terrors emerge.
There is a gamble at the centre of this very Halloween-appropriate project: can Pussycat Dolls lead singer Nicole Scherzinger showcase an emotional range as flexible as her four-octave vocals? Luckily for everyone involved, she more than delivers in the central role of Norma Desmond. But she’s not the stately, fading former silent movie actor that you might expect if you’re a fan of the 1950 film noir this musical is based on.
Instead, she’s the mercurial heart of Lloyd’s often kitsch, always unsettling meditation on fame. An onstage camera constantly follows her, projecting her face onto the wall behind her, cinema-style – and she can’t resist it, making campy little nods to the audience, pulling grotesque faces of exaggerated tragedy, then breaking into volleys of splits like an attention-hungry stage school kid. It’s an audience she hungers for, so when struggling young screenwriter Joe (Tom Francis) stumbles into her crumbling Hollywood mansion she falls on him with vampiric glee.
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