By: Isa Goldberg
When Glenn Close created the role of Norma Desmond in the original 1994 Broadway production of Sunset Boulevard, it was something of a camp Hollywood event. Her oversized gestures and vibrant voice seemed like a humorous counterpoint to the image of the fading silent film star, which she portrayed.
Watching her now – 23 years later – you won’t hear titters in the audience. Nor is there a sweeping staircase that lands nearly center stage – as there was in the original production. There is, however, a more believable, more vicious, more fearful and frightening Hollywood icon to discover. And that is the present day Glenn Close (Norma Desmond), who we follow in close-up throughout most of the entire two acts.
Beyond any ordinary vanity, Norma is the object of her own ritualistic devotion. And as Close portrays her, she is a universal character, embittered by her faded glory to the point of being delusional. It’s truly old age that lurks here like a hideous evil.
Deftly directed by Lonny Price at the legendary Palace Theater, the stage is mostly taken up by the orchestra. In that respect, this revival feels like a concert-style production – in the manner of director John Doyle – and without the glitz of a Broadway musical. Sunset is a sung-through musical, after all, and in this production there aren’t any dance numbers.
With a minimalist set (James Noone), darkly lit as though through a smoky camera lens, (Mark Henderson)– the production evokes a sense of impending gloom, as in a horror movie from the ‘40s. It takes a while before we even hear a splashy upbeat Broadway tuner. Fortunately, that song, “Every movie’s a circus,” ramps up with jazzy rhythms and a chorus of Hollywood kids, hanging around at Paramount Studios.
This is one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s more beautiful scores, in my opinion. Its cynical lyrics are the work of his collaborator Don Black, along with Christopher Hampton.
Glenn Close’s costumes (Anthony Powell) evoke not only the Hollywood icons of the ‘40s, but also the femme fatales and villains she helped to make famous – Cruella De Vil, among them.
As Norma’s love interest, Joe Gillis, Michael Xavier is a dashing tenor, and here he definitely wins the bathing suit contest. Siobhan Dillon, making her Broadway debut as the young woman who catches Joe’s eye, comes as a welcome relief to the vamps of old. But, Glenn Close is in a class of her own.
Sunset Boulevard ****1/2
1564 Broadway in NYC.
Wed, Sat, 2 and 8pm; Thu 7pm; Fri, 8pm; Sun, 3pm.
Running time: two hours and 30 mins. including intermission.
(877) 250-2929. www.ticketmaster.com.
Photos: Joan Marcus