Actress and singer Ria Jones stepped into the spotlight this week to take over the leading role in Sunset Boulevard and won over an audience angered by the news that award-winning actress Glenn Close was too ill to perform (Pictures: Kevin Wilson).
Jones, who had ironically been involved in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s early workshops for the show in 1991, went from understudy to leading lady after Close was forced to miss performances of the hit production on doctor’s orders.
Faced with a disgruntled crowd who had just discovered that they would not be seeing Hollywood star Close’s critically acclaimed performance as fading movie star Norma Desmond, Jones proved a hit in the role, receiving standing ovations and multiple curtain calls.
Jones told me: “As the lyric goes… ‘I’m floating in mid air’. It’s been the ride of my life. A dream come true and worth the 25-year wait!!”
There was also great support for Jones on social media from musical theatre fans who were distressed by the audience’s reaction to the news that Close was indisposed. Writing on The Musical Theatre Appreciation Society Facebook page, Olivia Edmonds wrote: “I was absolutely appalled at the behaviour being shown by the patrons attending ENO’s Sunset Boulevard. When I attended today’s matinee, and Glenn Close’s absence was announced, a gentleman was heard shouting: ‘So when do we get our money back?’ – a statement which was cheered by a huge number of people in the auditorium.
“I appreciated that people would be upset at missing Glenn Close – I get that! I’ve been upset by missing out on seeing performers that I’ve been so desperate to see in the past too – but I never would have dreamed to vent my frustration in such an unnecessary and downright rude way!”
Award-winning PR Kevin Wilson was present on Thursday night when Jones replaced Close for the first time. He wrote on Facebook: “Backed by the 51-piece ENO orchestra (who all applauded her offstage after the curtain call) Ria Jones has never sounded better… this was HER MOMENT and she knew she had to be better than she’s ever been before. She hit every high note like a clarion bell. Her final, thrilling defiant: ‘They’ll say Norma’s back at last… With one look I’ll be me!’ silenced any doubters that they were seeing an inferior performance – and the crowd went absolutely wild.”
Musical Theatre Review editor Lisa Martland happened to be seeing the show on Friday evening and was bowled over by Jones’ performance. On Twitter, she commented: “Wow, thought my heart was going to burst out of my chest seeing Ria Jones singing her heart out tonight as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard at the ENO.”
Jones later revealed that she hadn’t had much of an opportunity to rehearse beforehand with the 51-piece ENO orchestra before she stepped on to the Coliseum stage on Thursday night (she has since played the role for all Friday and Saturday performances too).
The Welsh singer is an experienced West End performer who at the age of 19 became the youngest performer to play Eva Peron in Evita. Jones has appeared in a number of hit musical productions since her West End debut in Chess.
The English National Opera’s production of Sunset Boulevard marked the West End debut for Close who gave a Tony Award-winning performance in the original Broadway production of the show in 1993. The run at London’s Coliseum is due to end on 7 May.
Book Tickets for Sunset Boulevard: HERE