Sunset Boulevard on Broadway: Glenn Close’s Return in the New Revival
“Watch me fly, we all know I can do it,” sings fallen film star Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. One of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most complicated heroines (one could say anti-heroines), Norma Desmond is back on Broadway, portrayed, by Glenn Close, who really soars. The story, based on the Oscar-winning 1950 film, centers on a down-on-his-luck screenplay writer, Joe Gillis, and his relationship with Norma, a silent screen actress decades past her prime. As she plans a grand return (she hates the word “comeback”) to Hollywood, he takes up residency at her Sunset Boulevard mansion to edit a miserable screenplay she’s written. Norma, and her creepy manservant Max, are sure that Paramount director Cecil B. DeMille will fawn over the script. Joe is less certain, but grows accustomed to his new living situation. As Norma’s feelings for Joe deepen, so does her jealousy and desperation.
The Knickerbocker team saw a performance of the musical just before it opened, on February 9. Here’s why the revival of Sunset Boulevard on Broadway is the new must-see show in town.
Sunset Boulevard on Broadway
Glenn Close steals the show as Norma Desmond.
Glenn Close won a Tony for playing Norma Desmond in 1995. Now with two more decades of acting under her belt, she is nothing short of marvelous. Her two biggest numbers, “With One Look” and “As if we Never Said Goodbye,” are clear crowd favorites, with lengthy applause breaks after them and the occasional burst of applause mid-song. Norma, who could so easily come across as evil, or worse, as a joke, finds complexity in Close’s interpretation. She’s megalomaniac, for sure. Yet the audience is rooting for her, and is almost as desperate as she herself is for her triumphant second chance at stardom.
The massive orchestra adds to the Hollywood setting.
Onstage, in full view of the audience, a 40-piece orchestra plays Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rich scores. Strings dominate, swooning through the melodies and smoothly adding to the overblown, overhyped and overproduced Hollywood illusions the whole musical is about.
The staging and costuming.
As the orchestra takes center stage, the staging itself takes a backseat. Minimalism on the set allows the characters (meaning Norma) to truly shine. Even in her mansion—evoked by a chaotic but grand chandelier—it’s Norma who catches the eye, thanks in no small part to Anthony Powell’s glistening costumes.
The anti La La Land.
La La Land is an ode to Old Hollywood. Sunset Boulevard is a tragic, cautionary tale about it. The ensemble cast of struggling wannabe actors and studio workers want the same fame that Norma had. She herself wants it back, and will do anything to convince anyone—herself included—that she deserves it.
After seeing Sunset Boulevard on Broadway, stop by The Knick for après-theater drinks at St. Cloud.