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Sunset Boulevard - Glenn Close makes a triumphant return to Broadway

Oscar E. Moore “from the rear mezzanine” for Talk

I can’t ever remember witnessing a world famous star or anyone for that matter eliciting such a thunderous and prolonged ovation as Glenn Close did on Thursday (2/16/2017) evening after singing “As If We Never Said Goodbye” as Norma Desmond in The English National Opera Production of SUNSET BOULEVARD – the Andrew Lloyd Webber revival now at the Palace Theatre through June 25th.

Everything clicked. All the stars aligned as she entered in a stunning black and white outfit (one of many eye popping ensembles designed by Anthony Powell) to meet Cecil B. DeMille (Paul Schoeffler) mistakenly thinking he wants to film her comeback (rather her “return”) in a screenplay she has written starring herself after being absent and mostly forgotten in Hollywood after being the reigning Queen of the Silent Movies – where facial expressions were paramount in telling the story.

She is overwhelmed by her reception once the “extras” realize who she is. What she was and what she has meant to the industry. She sits. She becomes emotional. Slowly one by one the sound stage lights focus on her. It is truly a magic in the making moment. She is young again. She is a star once more as she hesitantly begins what turns out to be the highlight of this production. The long ovation is well deserved. It is the reason you should not miss this once in a lifetime performance.

It takes great courage and stamina and extraordinary talent to tackle the demanding role of Norma Desmond. For the second time. Glenn Close won a Tony for her performance twenty three years ago. She has now returned older and wiser and more than spectacular. Watch her descent into madness with complete fascination.

A bit shaky in Act I receiving star entrance applause and a mini ovation for her performance of the other hit song from the show “With One Look” we tend to overlook that the book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton are not up to the original screenplay by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett upon which they based this almost sung through version.

Her supporting players are all more than adequate without having that certain charisma to make them special. Norma’s boy-toy Joe Gillis (Michael Xavier) a handsome, broke, down and almost out screenwriter with a great voice is surprisingly bland as narrator of the tale, her butler Max (Fred Johanson) excels with his “The Greatest Star of All” and Siobhan Dillon as Betty Schaeffer who works at the studio and falls for Joe makes the best of what she has to work with which isn’t much.

Director Lonny Price has come up with a Hollywood Sound Stage bare bones concept – Set design (James Noone) with a 40 piece orchestra in full view reminding us of an Encores! Production. Opulent it is not but it works. The sound doesn’t. The lush music sounds recorded. What a shame.

Some vintage black and white film projections add some nice nostalgic flavor to the mix.

Andrew Lloyd Weber’s score is quite wonderful to hear but certain aspects of a disappointing Act I need to be endured as we await the return to stage center of Glenn Close whose commanding performance is sublime. We wish she could be in every scene. After all that’s what the people out there in the dark are paying top price to see. Just ask Norma Desmond.

Photo: Joan Marcus

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