ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
Narcissism does not begin to describe the personality disorder that afflicts Norma Desmond (Florence Lacey) in Andrew Lloyd Weber's musical based on the much better Billy Wilder movie of the same name (with Gloria Swanson and William Holden). Norma was once a star, though perhaps not as talented or as famous as she would have anyone who steps in her path believe. Now she's Norma Who? That's where Joe (D. B. Bonds) an ambitious young man from Dayton, Ohio, comes in. He dreams of being a Hollywood writer but after a year in L.A., he's down on his luck, lives in a crummy apartment and is about to suffer Tinseltown's ultimate indignity of having his car repossessed -- but not before it breaks down in front of Norma Desmond's mansion.
The poor writer enters Desmond's lair where he is given the boy toy treatment: a room over the garage before graduating to the"husband's" bedroom; expensive clothes, an engraved gold cigarette case (everyone smokes; this is, after all, Hollywood in the 30's); promises of a large salary and a script to work on. Joe takes the gig but the price is high.
The far-from-happy ending is so trite, so Hollywood, you can see it coming. This is after all an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical with lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton. Webber has an affinity for larger-than-life female characters -- some might call them monsters. But his Norma Desmond wouldn't be good company for more than two minutes. And that is the problem with this Sunset Boulevard. Norma is delusional and vile with no redeeming features. There is no chemistry between the players although for the premise to work, Norma needs to be less of a harridan and more of a seductress; Joe needs to show that his ambitions exceed what little principle he may try to muster.
Behind a scrim, as though they were on a balcony in Norma's mansion, the gifted Jon Kalbfleisch directs/conducts his 20-piece orchestra admirably. Their sound is grand but the music is not. If it sounds familiar, that is because Lloyd Webber has recycled melodramatic melodies that sound like previous Lloyd Webber musicals. Same old, same old, underscoring Don Black and Christopher Hampton's trite lyrics and Karma Camp's uninspired choreography.
While Norma and Joe have fine voices that can and sometimes do evoke passion, it is Ed Dixon's rich, operatic basso profundo, superb diction and stonefaced delivery that audiences remember. Looking like the late Charles Laughton, he makes the most of acting and singing the imperious, keeper-of-the-flame Max von Mayerling. When he sings "The Greatest Star of All"and "New Ways to Dream" the house is under his spell. Joe was weak in setting up his opening number, "Let Me Take You Back Six Months," but much more animated in "This Time Next Year" and the signature song, "Sunset Boulevard." Norma's "Once Upon A Time" evoked little empathy but "As If We Never Said Goodbye,""an ode to the delusion that stardom never fades, is Florence Lacey's best rendition of the night. The supporting cast, which has many Signature regulars is fine -- Stephen Gregory Smith and Harry A. Winter particularly.
Daniel Conway's scenic design has all the grandeur one associates with Hollywood in the 30's. Its richness is evident via the marvelous antique car that carries Norma to what she thinks is an appointment at a major studio. Everything is greatly enhanced by Howell Binkley's lighting. Kathleen Geldard's costumes, except for those worn by Norma, are so plain they look more Woolworth's than Hollywood.
Norma Desmond says she is ready for her closeup. The musical about her was a success for several years in London, on Broadway and its world tour. Unfortunately, like its subject, it's now nothing more than faded glory.
Editor's Note: To read our London critic's enthusiastic review of the tiny Watermill Theatre's revival two years go here.
Sunset Boulevard/ (DC 2010)|
The Scottsboro Boyse
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson