Breaking Baz: Olivier Awards Victor Jamie Lloyd Reveals Nicole Scherzinger Was Not “Flattered” When Offered ‘Sunset Boulevard’; Hannah Waddingham Livens Up Afterparty

EXCLUSIVE: Jamie Lloyd, director of the history-making reimagining of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard, reveals that his star Nicole Scherzinger initially “refused to consider” accepting his offer to play Norma Desmond in the show adapted from Billy Wilder’s 1950 classic.

“Nicole was not flattered,” he gasped, speaking to Breaking Baz backstage at the London theatre awards, held at the Royal Albert Hall on Sunday night.

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Lloyd says that the show’s “obviously associated with Glenn Close’s iconic performance and therefore people think about Norma Desmond being a much older woman.”

Mmm, that’s unlikely to amuse Glenn Close.

He tells me that Scherzinger, a one-time member of The Pussycat Dolls, called Norma Desmond a “has been” and stormed at Lloyd that she “still looks good under the bright lights.”

Lloyd encouraged her to study Don Black and Christopher Hampton’s book and lyrics and to listen to Lloyd Weber’s music. ”I think it’s Andrew’s greatest score,” he argues. “It’s complex and challenging, so atmospheric and so surprising.”

Jamie Lloyd with Olivier trophy for best director. Photo by Baz Bamigboye/Deadline.
Jamie Lloyd with Olivier trophy for best director. Photo by Baz Bamigboye/Deadline.

He explains that he’d had a “weird sort of fever dream” that only Nicole Scherzinger could play Norma Desmond. The director felt that the singer had a “real connection to Norma’s story”.

Lloyd suggested that “Nicole, who has experienced great things and then, when you think about it, in many ways has been dismissed as an artist and has never really been given the opportunity to show the world what she’s really capable of doing.”

The production plays with that, he says, in the sense that “where does Nicole end and where does Norma begin?”

Lloyd says he had to tell Scherzinger not to think about Patti LuPone, Glenn Close, Elaine Paige, or Petula Clark. All four have essayed the role, though it was created by LuPone.

“If you start at something afresh and you do it confidently then you start to rediscover new ways of trying to tell the story…the key was having conversations and Nicole was so open in those conversations that eventually she agreed to play Norma.”

There was no plan B if she’d turned him down.

Nicole Scherzinger in 'Sunset Boulevard'
Nicole Scherzinger in ‘Sunset Boulevard’

I’m a huge fan of Trevor Nunn’s original Sunset Boulevard production at the Adelphi with Patti LuPone, but I too was “open” to experiencing Lloyd’s vision.

He was sitting in front of me at an early preview at the Savoy Theatre and, during the interval, I tapped him on the shoulder and whispered that he was giving us new ways to dream.

The show was electrifying and it has indeed reignited Scherzinger’s star power and created a new star in Tom Francis who plays Joe Gillis.

At the Olivier Awards, Francis raised the roof when black and white footage flickered on a screen showing the actor outside the Royal Albert Hall singing the title number and then snaking his way through the corridors — still singing — and out into the auditorium, and triumphantly cantering onto the stage. The 5,000-strong audience gave him a standing ovation and thunderous applause.

The actor did that every night when the show played the Savoy “even when it was raining” says Lloyd.

Shayna McPherson, the camera operator who filmed Francis on Sunday night, “had never picked up a camera in her life before Sunset Boulevard.”

McPherson is a dancer who, when Lloyd chose her, trained as a camera operator. Lloyd  explains that when people from film and TV caught the show and saw McPherson shoot video on the street and on stage, they barked ”Who’s that camera operator?!”

“They wanted to hire her,” says Lloyd

He praised Francis’s and McPherson’s  “monumental achievement” proclaiming it a “huge technical feat by the creative and technical teams on the show.”

Francis and fellow Sunset cast members Grace Hodgett-Young as Betty Schaefer and David Thaxton as Max Von Mayerling, will follow Scherzinger to the St James Theatre on Broadway in the fall. Previews begin on September 28 with opening night set for October 20.

With seven wins at the Olivier’s plus top awards from the Evening Standard and WhatsOnStage, Sunset Boulevard will arrive in New York a hot hit. However, Lloyd insists that his production won’t rest on its laurels. “We’re working on more new ways to dream for Broadway,” he promises.

Lloyd was back at rehearsals this morning with the cast of his version of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.

He shut down inquiries about Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, who has been subjected to what he calls “deplorable” attacks online decrying her casting as Juliet opposite Tom Holland’s Romeo. “Everyone is focusing on the work. That’s how you win in the face of the people who hate. You focus on the work and I can’t wait for the world to see this exceptional cast and the amazing performance that Francesca is creating. The mood in the room is creative and compelling,” he tells me.

The production previews at the Duke of York’s Theatre from May 11 with an official first night on May 23.

Olivier’s Afterparty

Close to midnight Hannah Waddingham, having shorn off her glittering gown, strode into the Natural History Museum’s Hintze Hall, with its magnificent 82-foot blue whale skeleton suspended in the air. Sge was wearing black Capri pants and a matching silk blouse, casual togs that signaled she and her team were going to have a fun time.

Carving a path through the cavernous chamber, Waddingham claimed an empty poseur table and proceeded to slurp down a flute of Taittinger. Then she poked her tongue out at me (see video).

What larks.

Hannah Waddingham at Olivier s after-party. Photo by Baz Bamigboye/Deadline.
Hannah Waddingham at Olivier s after-party. Photo by Baz Bamigboye/Deadline.

Waddingham’s a triple threat: she acts, she sings, and she dances. She made the ceremony go with a delicious zing while effortlessly oozing star-wattage glamor. One was able to enjoy the show vicariously just by watching her joyous reaction to moments like when Arlene Phillips declared, when she won the best choreography accolade (with James Cousins) for Guys & Dolls, that it was her first Olivier “at 80!” That show’s enjoyed an amazing run at the Bridge Theatre where it’s booked to run until January 4, 2025.

And Waddingham just loved watching Succession’s Sarah Snook taking the best actress prize for her breathtaking solo performance playing 26 characters in The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Now, I wonder why Sarah Jessica Parker, a best actress nominee for Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite, wasn’t in the house. Unlike her, usually so supportive.

Hats off to the Olivier Awards’ creative director Anthony Van Laast, and the bosses at Society of London Theatres, for bringing back Waddingham to ensure the gig had some sizzle.

And to have it at the Royal Albert Hall is a mega bonus. It’s hard to fathom why the movie BAFTAs gave up the venue and moved their awards across the Thames to the Royal Festival Hall. Sorry, but it’s like sitting in a high school gymnasium and to have the after-party there too is yucky. Zero class. Imagine having a glitzy awards ceremony at Eccles in Park City. Not on, right?

Blue whale hovers over the after-party at the Natural History Museum. Photo by Baz Bamigboye/Deadline.
Blue whale hovers over the after-party at the Natural History Museum. Photo by Baz Bamigboye/Deadline.

Back in May this column, rather loftily, proclaimed that Mark Gatiss was giving a performance for the ages with his portrait of John Gielgud in The Motive and the Cue, about when Gielgud directed Richard Burton as Hamlet on Broadway in 1964.

Until Sunday night, Andrew Scott had been scooping up all the acting honors for his solo performance in Vanya, performing eight characters in the adaptation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. However, it was Gatiss’s turn Sunday night to be garlanded as best actor.

The production originated at the National’s Lyttelton Theatre and then transferred to the Noel Coward. Gatiss confirmed that discussions have been had about taking the show to Broadway “but there are many more to be had.”

The NT’s other big wins were for Dear England which scored a best new play win for James Graham and a supporting actor gong for Will Close’s portrayal of England football skipper Harry Kane.

Importantly, the Olivier honors came as the NT’s artistic chief Rufus Norris prepares to depart after a decade leading Britain’s premier theatre institution.

During the finale, a tribute marking the NT’s 60th anniversary, Norris symbolically passed the baton onto his successor Indhu Rubasingham who will assume full control in spring of 2025.

Eleanor Lloyd, who soon steps down as president of the Society of London Theatre, noted that every night plays, musicals, opera, dance productions, and other live productions are performed in front of over 46,000 spectators in London, figures that point to the vital role the arts play in our society.

But these shows don’t just happen. Actors, writers, directors, dancers, singers, musicians, designers, crews, front of house, wigs, hair and make-up designers, lighting and sound experts, casting directors, publicists, painters, and a hundred other disciplines, are all vital to putting on shows. Those crafts people have to be trained throughout the country to keep the ecosystem that makes up the West End running night after night.

Increasingly though, it’s harder for those youngsters to find places to learn their chosen craft. The Olivier’s provides the industry with a well-deserved pat on the back.

That was yesterday.

Tonight 46,000 people need to be entertained.

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