This time with a set of ugly steel girders and a magnificent forty piece orchestra onstage behind her. Gone is the marvelously rococo, out-size set of John Napier’s representation of her decaying Hollywood mansion with the infamous gigantic diagonal staircase with a balustrade so high, you often couldn’t see the leading lady, if she was tiny ( Elaine Page) descending it. Patti LuPone the original Norma in London in the ’90s was fired from it for being too short, so the story goes. And so we have Glenn Close stepping in for the American premiere 22 years ago. And she was glorious.
Close always known as an actress, not necessarily as a singer, achieved iconic status the first time around, stopping the show in the MIDDLE of her songs. She does this again, especially with the Act Two stunner “As if I Never Said Goodbye.” In fact, she’s so powerful, she stops the show with the BEGINNING of the song, before she even sings, with just the sound of that lush, lovely music and Hog-Eye, the lighting guy’s, stunning light cue. A spotlight shone on her directly, stabbing the ordinariness and utterly transforming her before our stunned eyes, into a glittering star.I just couldn’t believe it! The audience was loving her so much they applauded the hell out of that moment before the classic song even started! (Lighting by Mark Henderson.) And was she once again stopped the show in the MIDDLE of the song! You could feel the ghost of Judy Garland, coming back to haunt her. Because this time “Sunset Boulevard” is playing the Palace, the historic home of Judy’s return triumphs. “I’ve come home at last!” she sings and as she throws out her arms to embrace the audience, the audience jumped to its’ feet to embrace her back(well, some of them did) and I witnessed the same phenomenon happen 22 years ago. And it’s as thrilling now as it was then.
And how rare it is to witness a mature actress getting to act the living daylights out of a great, great role, on Broadway, at 69!
“Sunset Boulevard” was always about age. And 22 years ago, Ms. Close was deemed to young to play Norma Desmond, who admitted to 50. And whoever believed her? But now she is just right, as she approaches 70. There are those great. mountain of stairs to climb at least three times that are even higher than before. How she accomplishes THAT amazing feat eight times a week and twice on Wednesday and Saturdays, is in itself a miracle. But you notice how she’s grasping the hand-rail more tightly and also more gingerly. But nevertheless her descent into the life of failing screenwriter Joe Gillis is as majestic as ever.And Gillis himself, as embodied by the tall, dark, and studly British actor, Michael Xavier, is captivating as he turns into well, a stud. A kept beach boy, a gigolo, who can’t stand being Norma’s boy toy, or can he?
In his self-loathing solo in Act Two (“Sunset Boulevard”), he is now dripping wet and nearly naked, having emerged from Norma’s swimming pool with a body that shows us why Norma is so smitten. In the briefest of sky blue speedo/underpants, you only half-believe that he hates this luxurious life, he has been encaptured by. Or is it enraptured? He then puts on a bathrobe, and onstage slips his speedos off. and we all wish he wasn’t wearing that damn bathrobe as he’s doing it!..
As for the rest of the actually very small leading cast, Fred Johanson is positively operatic and wonderful as Max, her intimidatingly creepy chauffeur. And Siobhan Dillon as the brainy blonde ingénue makes a boring part MORE boring.
In this production, you can see WHY Joe wants Norma. As embodied to the Nth degree by Close, she is dazzling. In gowns that this time must stand in for the missing set, she glitters, shimmers and shines. (Costumes by Tracy Christensen)”I’m rich!” she proclaims several times, reminding us of how Hollywood stars lived large, before personal income tax toned down their opulence.
And with that ugly, but functional set by James Noone, Christensen’s stupendous costumes now have to make up for the glamour-that-was-Norma. And they do.
And 69 year old diva Glenn Close is “now back where I belong! I’ve come home, AT LAST” she sings. And the crowd goes wild!
With one look, as her greatest song says, she can break your heart.
YOU MUST NOT MISS THIS!