Review: “Sunset Boulevard” at Palace Theater

By Jonathan Spira on 24 June 2017
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When Glenn Close speaks, people listen.

“This is Glenn Close,” the soft voice said over the public address system at the Palace Theater Friday night. “I have a cold,” she went on to say, quickly adding that she would be performing but perhaps not in full voice. Thunderous applause from an appreciative audience followed.

This was not the first time Ms. Close addressed the audience directly. In November 1994, during previews of the original Broadway production of the show at the Minskoff Theatre, she was greeted by a barrage of camera flashes as she descended Norma Desmond’s elaborate staircase. She stopped the show and addressed the audience: “We can either have a press conference or continue with the show,” generating a lengthy ovation from the house. Just one month ago, she stopped the show again during her first major song, “With One Look,” after a theatergoer started to take photos.

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The evening I was in attendance was also the evening that the show was being videoed for the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library’s Theatre on Film and Tape archive, an ironic twist of fate that the star did not let go unnoticed.

“Sunset Boulevard” is closing Sunday after extending its limited engagement four weeks to June 25. Earlier this year, Close returned to the role she originated in December 1993 at the Shubert Theatre in Los Angeles before moving the show to Broadway a year later. Rumor has it that the revival might transfer to Los Angeles with Glenn Close continuing in the leading role.

Having seen the original Broadway performance some 20 years ago, I didn’t want the revival to close without seeing that fabulous face once again.

That face, the face of faded silent screen star Norma Desmond, was never more intense and never more frightening than it was at the Palace on Friday. While that face no longer has to compete with the elaborate set of the original production, it does, with James Noone’s minimalist early industrial warehouse look set, an excellent job in conjuring up the Hollywood of the 1950s, from Schwab’s to a gigantic chandelier and even a floating corpse. In contrast to the modest set, the 40-piece orchestra, which the producers believe to be the largest ever on Broadway, was anything but. Indeed it is on stage and visible throughout the performance.

The plot, unlike the set, remains unchanged. A down-on-his-luck Hollywood writer, Joe Gillis (Michael Xavier) accidentally pulls into Desmond’s Beverly Hills driveway hiding from a repo man. The aging actress aided by Max von Mayerling (Fred Johanson), her butler, onetime director, and former husband, mistakes him for a funeral director (her pet chimp died), starts to throw him out but changes her mind when it dawns on her that his writing skills could come in handy.   Joe stays (not that he had any other work) and rewrites the screenplay for Desmond’s long-awaited comeback role, Salomé. Madame’s vintage town car still takes her to the studio lot, and she is, of course, both delusional and extremely possessive of Joe, keeping him on a tight leash until the very end.

“Just us, and the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark,” says Norma as things unravel. If you were one of those wonderful people in the dark Palace Theater during the show’s run, you were very lucky indeed.

THE DETAILS

Sunset Boulevard
Palace Theater
1564 7th Avenue
New York, N.Y. 10036
Runtime: 2 hrs. and 40 min.
www.sunsetboulevardthemusical.com

(Photos: Accura Media Group)

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