Sunset Boulevard Musical – all information & review. – “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small,” says Norma Desmond in this wonderful musical adaptation of Sunset Boulevard, Billy Wilder’s 1950 Oscar-winning film. Starring Glenn Close in the role made famous by Gloria Swanson in the classic film with William Holden, this tale of Norma Desmond, an aging silent screen star, captures the glamour of old Hollywood. This was a time when the big stars had even bigger mansions on the real Sunset Boulevard, the passageway from the center of Hollywood to the beach in Santa Monica, where the sun does, indeed, set.
Sunset Boulevard is a musical with book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton (with additional lyrics by Amy Powers) and unforgettable music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Webber is already a Broadway legend, but Sunset Boulevard has added to his lexicon of long-running hits. The center shining star in his masterpiece is the stunning Glenn Close, whom audiences adored in 101 Dalmations, and the actress takes her role to the heights of campy, eye-rolling drama as befitting a true silent film star. She inhabits her character with verve and relish, leaving one to wonder if she’s thinking of buying her own manse on Sunset Boulevard.
Michael Xavier stars in the role of Joe Gillis, the handsome struggling screenwriter who accidentally bumps into Norma and unwittingly falls into her fantasy world of the past. Although the faded cinema queen has her own designs on Joe, he has his eye on a girl screenwriter closer to his own age–and as an added bonus, she is not crazy.
The crumbling mansion on Sunset Boulevard is also home to Norma’s butler (played in the film by real-life movie director Erich von Stroheim), a devoted admirer who creates fake fan mail for his beloved mistress. It’s a juicy role and Fred Johanson makes the most of it, constantly reassuring Close that “Madame is the greatest star of them all.” They both believe it, and so will you.
Speaking of juicy roles, Glenn Close admits she’s been fascinated by the Norma Desmond character for decades and remembers fondly her days with the 90s production of the original Broadway production of Sunset Boulevard. She also performed the role on London’s West End to rave reviews. Although she often dismisses her abilities as a singer, Close belts out her musical numbers with confidences and force, and her imperious posture and grand gestures make her all the more believable as a diva of the silent screen era, when words were not necessary. Sunset Boulevard’s heroine makes the audience believe that she could control the silver screen without ever uttering a word but thankfully delivers her memorable movie lines through song: “Eternal Youth is Worth a Little Suffering” draws laughs and “As If We Never Said Goodbye” is almost too sad to bear.
Sunset Boulevard’s tale of an aging actress desperately trying to revive her faded career is at once melancholy, touching and humorous and the songs move the plot along at a dizzying pace. Accompanied by a 40-piece orchestra, songs range from the creepy opening setup with “I Guess It Was 5 AM” to the superbly tragic “The Final Scene,” and the songs actually touch on all the major points of the film without flagging from Webber’s constant efforts to move the story by song, not dialogue.
Those excited to see Ms. Close in this powerful rendering of Sunset Boulevard would do well to book tickets as soon as possible. Not only are they in high demand, so is the star. You never know when she’ll get a big movie and be replaced, so get to the box office now!
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