Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Review: Never Say Goodbye

By Michael Block 

Sunset Boulevard's return marks the fourth Andrew Lloyd Weber musical currently running. But the headline here is not just the triumphant and stunning return of Glenn Close as the iconic Norma Desmond. The real story is the unique (and recently rare) opportunity to hear the score performed by a forty piece orchestra on a Broadway stage. Set against a backdrop of the Hollywood Golden Age, Sunset Boulevard is a production you'll wish would never say goodbye.
photo by Joan Marcus
With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, Sunset Boulevard is the musical dramatization of the Billy Wilder film of the same name. After a dizzying opening, the stage is set for a Hollywood romantic thriller as Joe Gillis' murdered body hangs, looming from the rafters. Joe Gillis is a screenwriter looking to catch a break. He's in a bit of trouble running from some moneymen and finds himself in the garage of famed screen star Norma Desmond. Upon learning his profession, Norma convinces Joe to assist her on a script, all while she begins to fall for him in an unusual way. As he attempts to distance himself from Norma and her love stronghold, he falls for another woman, Betty Schaeffer, and causes Norma to fall deeper into despair. The staging by Lonny Price is sensational. Price uses the simple, yet grand set by James Noone to its full potential. Price and his team insured that the brilliant orchestra was a centerpiece of this production. To capture the mystery and intrigue of Hollywood, lighting designer Mark Henderson's evocative design brought the right marriage of light and shadow. But the subtle inclusion of bringing the house chandeliers into Norma's mansion was a glorious touch.
It's fitting that Sunset Boulevard gets a revival at the Palace, as Glenn Close is theatrical royalty. Close gives a master class in performance as the maddened, fading star. Mystifying is an understatement. Close went full tilt to bring Norma to life by incorporating the exquisite costumes (originally designed by Anthony Powell) into her physicality. Most actors just wear a costume as clothing. Glenn Close makes it part of her character. It's easy to get lost with everything that this production brings, but Michael Xavier was an incredible leading man. With Xavier's essence of old school charm, it's no wonder it captivated Norma. As the nice girl, equally captivated by Joe, Siobhan Dillon's Betty Schaeffer was a bright light. Dillon brought a modern sensibility into Betty, and broke her out of the typical ingénue role. It was a strong choice that paid off. With a deep voice and an unwavering loyalty, Fred Johanson found the complexity of Max. Johanson's rich characterization was beautifully understated yet perfectly powerful.
Sunset Boulevard is the show you've been eagerly anticipating. Between Glenn Close and the breathtaking orchestra, you'll never want to say goodbye to this perfect production. It should be noted that the performance I attended was the one where Hillary Clinton was in attendance. She received the first standing ovation of the night before the show. Believe me, I think the audience was willing to give a standing ovation in the middle of the show after "As If We Never Said Goodbye." But fear not, this show earned a round of ovations during the curtain call.