Tonight seeing Sunset Boulevard with Glenn Close there was an interesting turn of events. First, First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State and Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was in the audience. As the audience went into frenzy, they were primed for what awaited them. Ms. Close had an adoring audience, who was ready to love her, no matter what.
What shines in this production is the direction by Lonny Price, the orchestrations, with the fabulous orchestra led by Kristen Blodgette and the costumes for Ms. Close by Anthony Powell, which are spectacular. Maybe if I not been privileged enough to see all the original Norma’s, I would have nothing to compare this production to. Ms. Close won a Tony for this role, but there were only two shows nominated that year, Sunset Boulevard and Smokey Joe’s Cafe. For Best Actress in a Musical, there were also only two nominees, Ms. Close and Rebecca Luker for Showboat. Ms. Close has the “it factor” and you want to follow her energy, however she cannot sing the role. The best number she does is “Salome,” because she can act it. Who ever taught her how to sing, forget to instruct her how to blend the different register’s of her voice. She also has pitch problems and ends the major ballads with a raw belt. Sometimes it is effective, sometimes not. Though it is clear Ms. Close can act, we never see the descent into madness. It is sprung on us. Ms. Close goes from coy, to sexual to bonkers in a blink of your eye. It’s almost like Bette Davis in “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane.” The audience, however buys into this and she gets a standing ovation and three curtain calls, which she generously delivers.
The show starts with the body of Joe Gillis ( Michael Xavier) floating in what is suppose to be a swimming pool. The ghost of Joe looks down upon the scene, as we flashback to the events leading to his death. In a instant we are at Paramount Pictures, where a down on his luck Joe, meets with well known producer Sheldrake (Andy Taylor) on a story he hopes to sell. The script reader Betty Schaefer’s (Siobhan Dillon), criticism kills the deal, she tells him he likes his earlier work. Joe fleeing from having his car repossessed, parks it at silent film star Norma Desmond’s (Ms. Close) garage. Mistaking him for somebody else Max (Fred Johanson) her man-servant ushers him in. When Norma learns he is a writer, she begs him to read a script she has written about 16 year-old Salome. She is planning on making a comeback playing the title role. She is already delusional about how time has passed her by. Upon Norma’s insistence, Joe moves in. As time progresses Norma has bought Joe both with gifts and manipulation. As she falls in love, Joe tries nicely to back out, but Norma refuses.
Joe friend Artie Green (Preston Truman Boyd) introduces him to his fiancé Betty, the same script reader, who sees Joe’s potential, but Joe is uninterested. Norma cut her wrists with his razor and in guilt Joe returns back to Norma.
Thinking Cecile B. DeMille (a wonderful Paul Schoeffler) wants her, Norma returns to the studio and feels the old pangs of her former life. As weeks lag on Norma becomes driven into more hysterical tendencies. Joe secretly works nights at Betty’s Paramount office and they fall in love. Norma discovers the manuscript with Betty’s phone number and phones Betty to tell her what sort of man Joe really is. Joe, overhearing, invites Betty to come see for herself. He leads her to believe he is fine with his life style, but after she leaves Joe packs to go back to his old Ohio newspaper job. When Norma won’t let go, he tells her the truth, she shoots him and he is back in the pool. The house now filled with police and reporters shows Norma, having lost touch with reality. Max tells her they are filming “Salome” and Norma dramatically descends down the staircase. She makes a grandiose speech and states; “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.
The ensemble is well cast and works well together with choreographer’s Stephen Mears minimal period style dancing. Michael Xavier, as Joe is built and has a nice tone to his voice. However he drops almost every sixth word, so we miss a lot of the lyrics. He also comes off too white bred and sweet, not at all cynical or desperate. Siobhan Dillon has a lovely voice, but she lacks the spunk of Alice Ripley. I don’t quit understand why we imported these two actors instead of utilizing the amazing talent that is in New York. Fred Johanson as Max is perfect for the role and adds sympathy.
The stripped down set by James Noone makes it hard to see some of the scenes. It would have been a better affect to make it look more like a back lot of a movie studio. I absolutely loved the projections. The lighting design by Mark Henderson uses some fun aspects, to simulate cars coming and going.
This Sunset Boulevard allows you to really hear and appreciates the lietmotif’s throughout Mr. Webber’s score. Though there seems to be really only four that are manipulated into other songs, they are haunting and graceful, capturing you in their web. It’s a shame “As If We Never Said Goodbye,” isn’t sung to the heights it could be. I would love to hear Emily Skinner, Jan Maxwell or even Alice Ripley sink their chops into this material, but they aren’t stars.
The book and lyrics by Christopher Hampton and Don Black hold up and this show at times is arresting. Those wanting to see Glenn Close and are major fans will not be disappointed, as the three curtain calls I witness attest.
Sunset Boulevard: The Palace Theatre, 1564 7th Ave until June 25