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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
As directed by Lonny Price, this revival may be more Encores style concert than the ornately staged original, but it's big in all the right ways. The less realistically detailed actually underscores and bold faces how everything in Sunset Boulevard is secondary to that self-deluded diva whose starry career ended when talkies made silent films obsolete.
James Noone's industrial scaffolding actually works as an echo of Norma's lonely life in her no longer immaculate and fully staffed mansion. It does still have sky-high staircases for her to climb up and down for her melodramatic entrances and exits. And Price has managed to add some noirish touches reminiscent of the iconic Billy Wilder film with the addition of some great black and white film clips — most notable is the cinematic prelude to the heartbreaking scene when Norma leaves her retreat for the Paramount Studios to discuss her doomed comeback with Cecil B. DeMille. That best and most memorable scene prompted Noone and Price to bring on one really spectacular prop, a real automobile.
Of course orchestra is not just big with its players, but quite a big deal these days. Its being on stage, leaves the pit below the stage to serve as one of the narrative's major accouterments, the swimming pool.
Despite its size that orchestra never drowns out the singers. This is especially important vis-a-vis Close who's always relied on her acting virtuosity to deliver the songs. Her nuanced acting more than a big belting voice serves her well to this day. (It's what may have made Sir Lloyd Webber choose her as the star for the 1994 Broadway launch rather than the London premiere's Patti LuPone.
Speaking of Sunset Boulevard's songs, this is Andrew Lloyd Webber's best and richest score. Instead of one much reprised ear-clinger, he's written several show-stoppers like "Once Upon a Time,", "With One Look" and the "As If I Never Said Goodbye" for Norma, as well as some appealing numbers for the other chief characters. With two of his poperatic one-hit successes, Cats and Phantom of the Opera, as well as his new School of Rock, all currently on Broadway you can check this for "fake" reporting by me for yourself.
All this is not to say that Close's Norma, though touchingly vulnerable and gorgeous in all those original Anthony Powell costumes (including that spectacular turban) doesn't make for a story that's overly melodramatic, incredible and old-fashioned: Down on his luck writer Joe Gillis's broken down car landed him in the driveway of the mansion where Norma Desmond lives with the creepy Max Von Mayerling who turns to be much more than her extremely devoted butler. Since Joe is a writer she hires him to help her put the final touches on the clearly hopeless script for a film she thinks will restore her to stardom. Since Joe is our narrator but already dead we know his unplanned landing at that Sunset Boulevard mansion will end badly since the needy Norma also wants to renew her love life as well as her dead career.
Since this is one of those star vehicles with no alternate performances scheduled for Glenn Close's understudy (though ensemble member Nancy Anderson is a lovely actress with a beautiful voice and many terrific off-Broadway musicals to her credit). What about the rest of the cast? The three other key actors, who also appeared in this production's premiere at London's National Theatre, are all fine.
Michael Xavier who plays Joe Gillis is actually on stage more than Close. William Holden, the film's Joe had more emotional depth and charisma, but Xavier makes up for that with his powerful vocals and a physique. No complaints either about Fred Johnson's deep baritone and his portrayal of the butler whose devotion is as demented as Norma's dream of a comeback. Sibhoan Dillan's Betty Schaeffer provides a nice opportunity for a catchy romantic ballad ("Too Much In Love to Care"), though the attractive Paramount studio worker she portrays fails to persuade Joe to give up the glamour and comfort of his life with Norma.
Naturally a musical needs some ensemble production numbers and the detours to the young Hollywood Studio people Joe misses enough to prompt his New Year's Eve getaway. And while choreographer Stephen Mear creates some lively interludes, the show doesn't pick up full steam again until Close's Norma has had time to come back in another dazzling costume. And nothing beats the "New Year Tango" which makes you see Joe succumbing to Norma by the shadow of her younger self.
Judging from the ecstatic and lengthy response to Close's entrance and "As If We Never Said Goodbye" it's no wonder this limited run has already extended a month. Per her final song, Glenn Close is indeed living up to Norma's "I'll be back where I was born to be" finale.
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Sunset Boulevard Book by Don Black and Christopher Hampton
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton
Based on the film by Billy Wilder
Director: Lonny Price
Musical Director: Kristen Blodgette
Cast: Glenn Close (Norma Desmond), Siobhan Dillon (Betty Schaefer), Fred Johanson(Max von Mayerling), Michael Xavier (Joe Gillis); also Nancy Anderson,Mackenzie Bell, Preston Truman Boyd,Barry Busby,Britney Coleman,Julian R. Decker, Anissa Felix, Drew Foster, David Hess,Brittney Johnson,Katie Ladner,Stephanie Martignetti, Lauralyn McClelland, T. Oliver Reid, Lance Roberts, Stephanie Rothenberg, Graham Rowat, Paul Schoeffler,Andy Taylor, Sean Thompson, Matt Wall,Jim Walton
Choreographer: Stephen Mear
Sets: James Noone
Costumes: Tracy Christensen
Glenn Closes Personal costumes, wigs and makeup: Anthony Powell, Andrew Simoninand Charlotte Hayward
Lighting: Mark Henderson
Sound: Mick Potter
Makeup Design: Charlotte Hayward
Hair and Wig Design:Dave Bova and J. Jared Janas
Fight direction: Rick Sordelet and Christian Kelly-Sordelet
Stage Manager: Timothy R. Semon
Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes, including 1 intermission
The Palace Theatre 1564 7th Avenue
From 2/02/17; opening 2/09/17; closing 6/25/17.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 2/16/17 press preview
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