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Giving Face: Glenn Close’s Return to Broadway in ‘Sunset Boulevard’

February 17th, 2017 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

Glenn Close in 'Sunset Boulevard.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Glenn Close in ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Talk about star power! No, I’m not referring to Glenn Close, the estimable star of Sunset Boulevard, now in glittery revival at the Palace Theatre. I mean Hillary Clinton, who, the night I attended, brought the house to a roaring, cameras-out, standing ovation as she took her seat just before the show began. Close, despite a fine, if overripe, performance, had to compete with her audience’s divided attention all night.

Partly, this is because the musical adaptation of Sunset Boulevard, based on the classic 1950 Billy Wilder film, is, while generally entertaining, simply not that great. It was first produced with Patti LuPone as Norma Desmond in London in 1993, with Glenn Close (who won the Tony) starring in the 1994 Broadway version (which, despite a nearly two and a half year run, lost a fortune). The current version arrives after premiering at London’s English National Opera, its leads intact.

With book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton (much of the ordinary dialogue is sung as even more ordinary recitative) and score by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, the show closely follows the movie’s plot and includes many of its familiar lines. Apart from two aria-like songs displaying Webber at his most lushly melodic and theatrically emotional—“As If We Never Said Goodbye” and “With One Look”—the well-performed score is not particularly memorable. Fortunately, a huge, 40-piece orchestra led by Kirsten Blodgette (one of Broadway’s largest ever we’re told) makes even the more mediocre numbers sound their best.

Michael Xavier and the cast of 'Sunset Boulevard.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Michael Xavier and the cast of ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Sunset Boulevard, as any film buff knows, tells of onetime, silent screen goddess Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson on screen), 50, her fame a memory, living in the decaying splendor of a Sunset Boulevard mansion with her faithful, bullet-headed, immaculately groomed butler and first husband, Max Mayerling (Fred Johanson; Erich von Stroheim on screen), the former director who made Norma famous.

There the deluded, reclusive, garishly dressed and heavily made-up former star—her fantasies maintained by the ever-looming Max—dreams of her comeback in a spectacular film she’s written about Salomé in which she hopes to star at Paramount under the direction of Cecil B. DeMille (Paul Schoeffler; DeMille himself on screen). When a handsome, flat-broke screenwriter, Joe Gillis (Michael Xavier; William Holden on screen), shows up, desperate for work, she asks for his help on what he recognizes as her awful screenplay. Joe’s status as Norma’s kept man coupled with a budding romance with script reader Betty Schaeffer (Siobhan Dillon) leads to tragic results.

Glenn Close in 'Sunset Boulevard.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Glenn Close in ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

At the end, the now insane, wild-eyed Norma—garbed outlandishly as a 1920s movie version of Salomé—mistakes the cops and reporters for studio employees as she descends a staircase to deliver her devastating tagline, “And now, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

Director Lonny Price’s revival has eliminated much of the fabled grandiosity of the overproduced first production, opting for a more simplified approach within James Noone’s elaborate framework of metal staircases and catwalks, dominated by a remarkable chandelier suggesting a series of drooping teardrops, one above the other.

Supplemented by the brilliant lighting of Mark Henderson, the excellent period costumes of Tracy Christensen (with Anthony Powell doing Close’s strikingly over-the-top ensembles), b/w videos (uncredited) of 1940s Hollywood, and lively choreography by Stephen Mear, this Sunset Boulevard remains visually sumptuous. And let’s not forget the dead-body-in-the-pool effect that opens and closes the show.

For all its exaggerations and Swanson’s larger-than-life performance, Wilder’s film was a darkly cynical, noirish satire on the fickleness of fame and the ruthlessness behind Hollywood’s glamorous exterior. Except for rare moments, Price’s staging, in a fatal mistake, fails to capture the darkness, being surprisingly upbeat, paced at machine-gun speed, and with only scattered moments of the needed gothic anxiety demanded by the story.

Xavier’s Joe, tall and hunky (body worshipers will appreciate his swimsuit scene), comes off more like a James Stewart-like boy-next-door than a down-on-his-luck skeptic. Johansen’s Max, physically imposing with a gifted baritone voice, is too overbearing and lacks the necessary subtle menace. Dillon plays Betty, the formulaic ingénue, according to formula.

Close, nearly 70 but playing 50, inspires thoughts regarding similarities between herself and Norma. Her pitchy singing voice is not Broadway’s best, but her acting is strong enough, even within the deliberately broad, almost grotesque, theatricality she adopts (even Swanson’s own campiness doesn’t compare) to jerk tears when she launches into “With One Look.” But the emphasis on her exaggerations takes the show too far from its deeper implications.

This revival of Sunset Boulevard is smart to have pared down its visual excesses. The darkness it evokes, though, is more in its lighting than in the world it creates. Which is not so smart.

Sunset Boulevard
Palace Theatre
1564 Broadway, NYC
Through June 25

Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Broadway’s Three to See

February 15th, 2017 Comments off

Broadway and beyond is delivering the goods this month, with star turns from Glenn Close and Jake Gyllenhaal, as well as the latest musical from legendary composer John Kander. Here are our picks of what not to miss.

Glenn Close in 'Sunset Boulevard.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Glenn Close in ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Sunset Boulevard
Glenn Close returns to Broadway in her Tony Award-winning role as the wide-eyed Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s epic Sunset Boulevard. John Napier’s towering sets for the original production have been stripped down to make room for the largest Broadway orchestra in 80 years.

In her mansion on Sunset Boulevard, faded, silent-screen goddess, Norma Desmond, lives in a fantasy world. Impoverished screenwriter, Joe Gillis, on the run from debt collectors, stumbles into her reclusive world. Persuaded to work on Norma’s ‘masterpiece’, a film script that she believes will put her back in front of the cameras, he is seduced by her and her luxurious life-style. Joe becomes entrapped in a claustrophobic world until his love for another woman leads him to try and break free with dramatic consequences.

Ben Brantley described Glenn Close’s Norma Desmond as “One of the great performances of this century.”

Sunset Boulevard
Palace Theatre
1564 Broadway
Through June 25

The cast of 'Kid Victory.' (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘Kid Victory.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Kid Victory
Kid Victory, a haunting new musical, is the latest collaboration from the creators of Vineyard Theatre’s The Landing, composer John Kander (Cabaret, Chicago, The Scottsboro Boys) and playwright Greg Pierce (Slowgirl, Her Requiem).

Seventeen-year-old Luke returns to his small Kansas town after a wrenching one-year absence. As his friendship grows with the town misfit, Emily, his parents realize that in order to truly find their son, they must confront some unnerving truths about his disappearance. Directed by Liesl Tommy (Broadway’s Eclipse, recipient of The Vineyard’s Susan Stroman Directing Award) and choreographed by Christopher Windom (Pippin, Drama League Fellow Assistant Director) in their Vineyard debuts.

Kid Victory
Vineyard Theatre
108 East 15th Street
Opening night: February 22

 

sunday in the park with george
Sunday in the Park with George

One of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s most celebrated musicals returns (again) for a limited run starring Jake Gyllenhaal making his Broadway debut, and Tony Award winner Annaleigh Ashford (Kinky Boots, Wicked). With a two-act structure that loosely follows the life of Impressionist painter George Seurat, Sunday in the Park with George has become a cult favorite since its original 1983 Off Broadway premiere at Playwrights Horizons. Past revivals have included the 2008 transfer of Menier Chocolate Factory’s production.

This production is based on the 2016 City Center concert and has a limited run through April 23.

Sunday in the Park with George
Hudson Theatre
139-141 West 44th Street
Opening night: February 23

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on social media at @roodeloo.

 

 

Andrew Lloyd Webber Celebrates 4 Shows on Broadway

February 10th, 2017 Comments off
The casts of Andrew Lloyd Webber's current shows on Broadway. (Photo: Nathan Johnson via The Broadway Blog.)

The casts of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s current shows on Broadway. (Photo: Nathan Johnson via The Broadway Blog.)

Moments before the curtain went up on the Broadway revival of Sunset Boulevard, starring Glenn Close, the stars of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s productions came together to celebrate the legendary composer’s historic achievement of having four musicals running simultaneously on Broadway with a commemorative photo.

Lloyd Webber posed backstage at Broadway’s Palace Theatre with cast members from Sunset Boulevard (Glenn Close, Michael Xavier, Siobhan Dillon, Fred Johanson), School of Rock – The Musical (Eric Petersen, Jersey Sullivan, Rachel Katzke), CATS (Jessica Hendy, Harris Milgrim, Tanner Ray Wilson), and The Phantom of the Opera (James Barbour, Kaley Ann Voorhees).

She’s Back! Glenn Close Returns to Broadway in ‘Sunset Boulevard’

October 25th, 2016 Comments off
Glenn Close as Norma Desmond (Photo: Nick Wall via The Broadway Blog.)

Glenn Close as Norma Desmond (Photo: Nick Wall via The Broadway Blog.)

Producers Paul Blake and Mike Bosner announced today the Broadway return of three-time Tony Award-winner Glenn Close in her most iconic role, Norma Desmond, in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony Award-winning Best Musical, Sunset Boulevard.

Based on Billy Wilder’s classic Academy Award-winning film, Sunset Boulevard features a celebrated book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton. Direct from a bravura sold-out engagement earlier this year at the English National Opera (ENO), which marked Ms. Close’s West End debut, this production of Sunset Boulevard will feature a 40-piece orchestra on the stage of The Palace Theatre (1564 7th Avenue). Directed by Lonny Price, performances will begin on Thursday, February 2, 2017, with an official opening night set for Thursday, February 9, 2017. Sunset Boulevard will play a limited 16-week engagement. Tickets go on sale today, Tuesday, October 25, 2016 at 11 am.

“Seeing Glenn Close revisit her Tony Award-winning performance in London’s West End was a transcendent experience for us both,” said producers Paul Blake and Mike Bosner. “We wouldn’t have thought it possible, but Glenn’s masterful performance is even richer and more layered than before. And hearing the sweeping, breathtaking score performed by a 40-piece orchestra only solidified why Andrew Lloyd Webber is a living legend.”

The ENO production of Sunset Boulevard was just nominated for two Evening Standard Awards, including “Best Musical” and “Best Musical Performance” nod for Glenn Close.

In her mansion on Sunset Boulevard, faded, silent-screen goddess, Norma Desmond, lives in a fantasy world. Impoverished screen writer, Joe Gillis, on the run from debt collectors, stumbles into her reclusive world. Persuaded to work on Norma’s ‘masterpiece’, a film script that she believes will put her back in front of the cameras, he is seduced by her and her luxurious life-style.  Joe becomes entrapped in a claustrophobic world until his love for another woman leads him to try and break free with dramatic consequences.

Sunset Boulevard originally premiered in London’s West End at the Adelphi Theatre in 1993, where it ran for almost four years and played to nearly two million people. The American premiere was at the Shubert Theatre in Century City, Los Angeles in December 1993 with Glenn Close as Norma. The musical was an instant success and played 369 performances before moving to Broadway in 1994 with, what was then, the biggest advance in Broadway history, at $37.5million.

When Sunset Boulevard opens on Broadway, Andrew Lloyd Webber will have the rare distinction of having four musicals running simultaneously on Broadway: The Phantom of the Opera, School of Rock – The Musical, CATS, and Sunset Boulevard.

 

Applause, Applause: Judy Kuhn, Just Around The Record Label?

November 19th, 2012 Comments off

In his continuing series, Andrew Glaszek pays tribute to music theater greats deserving of diva status. Today, he looks at an actress who has been in some of the biggest hits of the last few decades but still isn’t a household name…

Judy Kuhn "Just in Time". Image via Amazon.

To some, life would just be bland and banal without The Broadway Album, It’s Better with a Band, Way Back To Paradise, or Matters of The Heart. And though I respect Barbra, love Barbara, Audra, and worship at the altar of Patti, my life (and repertoire) wouldn’t be the same without the album Just In Time: Judy Kuhn Sings Jule Styne. It’s a recording that is, start to finishfantastic.

This should be no surprise to anyone who fell in love with Ms. Kuhn in the revival of She Loves Me  (TONY Nom), was blown away by her “Just Around The Riverbend” as Disney’s Pocahontas, or found her Betty Schaefer better than the leading actress in the Broadway Sunset Boulevard. Choosing a favorite song or performance by her is a tough task since this is the same wonder woman who leaves people obsessed with her soprano in Les Miserables (TONY Nom) and her belt in Chess (Tony Nom)! This season, Judy hit the NY stage and filled the house in the Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron’s Fun Home at The Public and is sure to tear up the town as Fosca in Classic Stage Company’s upcoming revival of Sondheim’s Passion.

It’s also great to have the prospect of a new solo album on the horizon that should include songs by Sondheim and Porter amongst others. Without a record label backing this project, she’s taken to kickstarter for financing of this, her third solo recording after Just In Time… in ’95 and Serious Playground – The Songs of Laura Nyro from ’07. Check out her campaign for a video and incentives.

So while you get your tix for Passion and help kickstart her new album, get your Judy Kuhn fix with these clips (and go buy Just In Time: Judy Kuhn Sings Jule Styne on iTunes!)…

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