Some twenty five years ago when Andrew Lloyd Webber was workshopping his new musical Sunset Boulevard the very first time, the iconic role of the faded movie star Norma Desmond was created by young leading lady Ria Jones. At that time, Jones was playing a string of lead roles in Lloyd Webber musicals – Grizabella in Cats, the title role in Evita and the Narrator in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Since then, the Welsh star has continued to forge a successful career in musical theatre, with leading roles in such diverse shows as Chess, Anything Goes, Acorn Antiques, The Witches of Eastwick and the recent Jerry’s Girls, and has a string of concert appearances under her belt.

When Hollywood superstar Glenn Close – the original Broadway Norma – was announced as the leading lady of the limited-run semi-staged revival of Sunset Boulevard at the London Coliseum, it somehow seemed theatrically appropriate when Jones – the original workshop Norma – was signed as her understudy. When Close was indisposed on Thursday night, Jones took to the stage, singing the role for the first time with the magnificent ENO orchestra. As Norma Desmond herself says about her planned movie return, ‘I’ve been waiting twenty years Joe’, so the ever youthful Jones has been waiting a similar period of time to play the role. I caught her second night in the part tonight and she is set to continue playing Norma for the two scheduled performances this weekend. By tonight, word was out on social media that Jones had wowed the audience on her previous night’s debut. The dramatic onstage announcement from an ENO executive of Close’s absence, initially greeted by a few groans by punters paying up to £150 for their seats, soon gave way to extended cheers of excited expectation at the news that Jones would once more play the lead role. Those lucky enough to be there will be able to say ‘I was there!’ as a star was reborn.

Jones wisely makes the role of Norma Desmond her own, commanding the stage as soon as she comes on, showing no fear at filling in for a Hollywood superstar. Her first big number, ‘With One Look’ is built gradually to an thrilling climax, and she uses movement effectively to suggest a character lost in a world of years ago, reliving her younger life as a silent movie star. There’s naturally a different, exciting dynamic with Michael Xavier’s Joe – Jones’ Norma ever the charmer as she lures and entices him into her world and arms. There’s great depth to Jones’ singing voice too, and she wrings every ounce of emotion out of ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’, as Norma returns to Paramount Studios.

A second viewing of Sunset Boulevard provides another opportunity to listen to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s richest of scores and Don Black’s evocative lyrics. The score has never sounded so good as in this production, played by the magnificent 48 piece ENO orchestra. Siobhan Dillon as young writer Betty Schaufer and Fred Johanson’s Max also add to the vocal richness of Xavier and Jones – they make for a gloriously-sung central quartet. Any disappointed punters at Close’s absence would surely not have left feeling that they had seen an inferior central performance. As the cast took their bows, the audience waited for Jones’ entrance before giving her a well-deserved standing ovation. The original workshop Norma – ‘back at last’ – made her own piece of musical theatre history.