When it was announced that Glenn Close was to make her West End debut in a limited season revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard at the London Coliseum, I booked my ticket with some trepidation. Would Close, now 69, be able to withstand the physical and vocal demands of the role of Norma Desmond, the faded movie star at the centre of the piece? After last year's slightly disappointing semi-staged Sweeney Todd, would the second of GradeLinnit and English National Opera's yearly musical offerings fare better? And in any case, for those of us fortunate to see the original Adelphi Theatre production some twenty plus years ago, can any new production of Sunset Boulevard ever really live up to the glorious perfection of John Napier's original set coupled with the dramatic and mesmerizing performance of Betty Buckley? It was, of course, Buckley who took over the central role in London at the end of Patti Lupone's year-long run in the part. By then, Glenn Close had opened a revamped version of the show for the American premiere in LA and the changes were incorporated into the London production with Buckley. Close later opened in Sunset Boulevard on Broadway, but never played the role in London...until now.

Close brings an exciting frisson to both the part of Norma Desmond and to the whole production – it's somehow appropriate that this superstar film actress plays a character who herself was a superstar of the silent movies in her day. It's rare to witness the more American phenomenon of audience applause on the entrance of a star onto a London stage, but Close commands it. Entering down one of several staircases which form the main part of James Noone's set design for this semi-staged production, Close's Norma demands attention from the off. The two big numbers most associated with the character – 'With One Look' and 'As If We Never Said Goodbye' – receive the kind of prolonged thunderous applause that is rarely heard outside of the arena stage. The latter song is staged appropriately dramatically with old colleague Hog-Eye shining a spotlight on Norma as she makes her long-awaited return to Paramount Studios, basking in its familiarity and her memories of her time there. Vocally, Close is not where she was twenty years ago, but any imperfections only add to the character in this piece. Wearing Anthony Powell's stunning original costumes, Close manoeuvres the staircases numerous times in what is a very physically demanding role, and uses gestures which reference the silent movie era in Norma's movement to reflect both her obsession with her successful past and her gradual descent into madness. She wrings every ounce of irony out of Sunset’s great lines too – ‘I am big. It’s the pictures that got small’.

However, there are other strengths to this production in addition to its star casting. Andrew Lloyd Webber's score – which must be amongst his very best – is thrillingly played by the ENO's 48 piece orchestra, seated at the back of the Coliseum’s large stage. Conductor Michael Reed brings out the joy and fun of the score in the company numbers (such as 'Let's Have Lunch' and ‘Every Movie’s a Circus’) while maintaining an effective brooding presence for the darker, more intimate moments. I've truly never heard it played as well as it is here, or such rich orchestrations – and Don Black’s lyrics resonate perfectly. Director Lonny Price has created an overall look to the piece which, from my seat in the middle of the Dress Circle, made it look quite filmic in parts, along with the inventive use of black and white projections. He even uses the new device of the ghost-like appearance of a young Norma at certain points, as a reminder of her younger self, and also wisely ensures that Norma's iconic vintage car (another icon from the original production) still appears on stage. Stephen Mear's choreography fills the different spaces of the multi-purpose set in the ensemble numbers located in Schwarbs' store and Artie's New Year's Party, giving a well-needed breather from the drama of the central story.

But Sunset Boulevard is not really Norma's story – it's actually told in flashback from the viewpoint of the deceased writer Joe Gillis, a dead model of whom is winched above the stage at the beginning and remains as an onlooker throughout the piece. In a difficult part to pull off, Michael Xavier shows how Gillis was gradually drawn into Norma's world, enticing and ensnaring the audience to admire him despite his flaws, and earning a ripple of excited gasps as he climbs out of the swimming pool at the start of the well-staged title number. Xavier acts well through song, and is well matched by Siobhan Dillon as his young love interest Betty Schaufer. Fresh from redefining the difficult 'other woman' part in Miss Saigon, Dillon does just that here, as a young writer who is full of youthful optimism and whose marriage plans to Haydn Oakley's Artie Green are threatened by her growing feelings for Joe. Vocally amongst the very best on stage, Dillon's duet with Xavier, 'Too Much In Love To Care' is a highlight. And Fred Johanson's Max, Norma's loyal servant with a mysterious past, also scores in the vocal department with a sonorous and determined ‘Greatest Star of All’ and is an almost sinister presence in the mansion scenes.

The London Coliseum is a great, grand location for this glamorous yet tragic story of a great star who gained and then lost so much. While it might lack the epic melodrama and sheer grandeur of the unbeatable original production, the ENO's production is a rare opportunity to see this show, with a star performer, on a large stage, and is truly musically beautiful. Already hailed as the theatrical event of the year, it's difficult to imagine a greater buzz around any other show for a good while.