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Sunset Boulevard On Broadway

Glenn Close & Michael Xavier (Photo by Joan Marcus from O&M/DKC PR)

Glenn Close & Michael Xavier (Photo by Joan Marcus from O&M/DKC PR)

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Right off, I have to confess that I’m not a huge fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber. For all his commercial success (four plays running simultaneously on Broadway right now!), I’ve found his scores not all that strong. There’s usually one standout number, maybe two (“Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” in Evita, “Memory” in Cats), filled out with a bunch of nondescript melodies, often with pedestrian lyrics.

That’s the case, I’m afraid, with Sunset Boulevard, currently in revival at the Palace Theatre. Beyond “As If We Said Goodbye” (and possibly “With One Look”) there’s nothing very memorable. “As If We Said Goodbye” is the showstopper in the second act where Norma Desmond, the aging former silent film star (played by Gloria Swanson in the original movie), returns to Paramount Studios and is greeted warmly on the set.

Glenn Close as Norma milks the moment for all it’s worth, and the audience responds, as expected, with an ovation. She’s fills it with grand gestures, appropriate for a delusional diva, but her voice is surprisingly thin. She commits herself completely to the role, unafraid to appear grotesque, but it all seems stylized, like Japanese Noh theater. In the end, I admired her craft yet left unmoved. Since she was greeted with multiple standing ovations at the curtain call, I’m clearly in the minority here.

Despite my reservations, there are other redeeming features to this production. Michael Xavier is a real hunk as Joe, the screenwriter who becomes Norma’s kept boy toy (the Richard Wilder role in the film), who’s beautiful both to see and hear. And Siobhan Dillon is very appealing as Betty, his true love and screenplay collaborator.

They both come, as does Glenn Close, from the recent West End revival of Sunset Boulevard. That and this production were both directed by the ever-creative Lonny Price, who has eschewed the grandiose set design of the original Broadway production for something more utilitarian, with steel stairways and catwalks surrounding a large orchestra center stage. He begins each act with vintage black & white film footage which clearly establishes the time and place, and uses the ensemble effectively. What you get is something streamlined, in contrast to Close’s over-the-top performance.
 
This production is supposedly a limited 16-week engagement. Given the rave review Close received in the Times and the rapturous reception she receives from most of the audience, it seems likely she’ll be nominated once again for a Tony Award as Best Leading Actress in a Musical (she already won one for the same role in 1994), so don’t be surprised if it gets extended.