‘SUNSET BOULEVARD’: Glenn Close. Photo: Joan Marcus

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Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton
Based on the Billy Wilder movie Sunset Boulevard

Directed by Lonny Price
Palace Theatre

Broadway & 47th Street

(877-250-2929), www.SunsetBoulevardTheMusical.com


By David NouNou

Sunset Boulevard is a blend of illusion and reality. In this version you have to suspend reality and work on the illusion. The illusion is Glenn Close recreating her 1995 Tony-winning role of Norma Desmond. I give her all the credit in the world for tackling this venture. The original version was a brilliant adaptation of Billy Wilder’s magnificent screen version of the same name. It was thrillingly directed by Trevor Nunn and the set by John Napier was truly one of the greatest and most memorable sets of all time. They anchored the show and gave it splendor and meaning.

There is no need to labor on the plot, because as we all know it is about the faded screen star of yesteryear falling for a hack younger screenwriter. We knew that this version would be scaled down, which is okay. However, it is pared down so much that at times it borders on what Carol Burnett did on her TV show, a hilarious parody of Sunset Boulevard in which she played “Nora Desmond.” From the confusing direction by Lonny Price to the most utilitarian set of scaffoldings by James Noone, this production lacks the majesty and grandeur of the original.

This revival originated at the Coliseum Theatre in London last year and now has transferred to the mammoth Palace Theatre. The four principals of Glenn Close (Norma Desmond), Michael Xavier (Joe Gillis), Siobhan Dillon (Betty Schaeffer) and Fred Johanson (Max von Mayerling) are all intact, but the quality of the performances varies indeed. Of course the people have come to see Glenn Close recreate her magical performance, but in this instance it is more of a caricature. Ms. Close is adept enough of an actress to pull it off—she still brings a haunting sincerity to the role—but she should have stuck to her old performance which had more character and less, well…caricature.

As for the other three leads, it is anyone’s guess of why they have transferred to Broadway. Originally played by Alan Campbell as Joe, George Hearn (winning his second Tony for playing Max, and Alice Ripley as Betty.) Since Joe is the lead (remember the gorgeous William Holden in the movie?), Michael Xavier is excruciatingly bland. He lacks the charm and charisma that makes Norma fall for him and this throws the whole balance of the show off kilter. Fred Johanson as Max is a combination of Daddy Warbucks from Annie and Lurch from “The Addams Family,” and this is another wrench, thus eradicating any semblance of regality, pompousness and authority. Ms. Dillon as Betty comes off best; she does the ingénue role well.

There is redemption here; the score by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black and Christopher Hampton remains sublime and among Mr. Webber’s best music. The orchestra, conducted by Kristen Blodgette, is a highlight that makes the evening memorable, and of course there is Glenn Close. After all, what would Sunset Boulevard be without her?


Edited by Scott Harrah
Published February 23, 2017
Reviewed at performance on February 22, 2017



‘SUNSET BOULEVARD’: Glenn Close. Photo: Joan Marcus

‘SUNSET BOULEVARD’: Michael Xavier. Photo: Joan Marcus

‘SUNSET BOULEVARD’: Michael Xavier & Siobhan Dillon. Photo: Joan Marcus


‘SUNSET BOULEVARD’: The cast. Photo: Joan Marcus

‘SUNSET BOULEVARD’: The cast. Photo: Joan Marcus

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