WHAT “Sunset Boulevard”
WHERE Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway
INFO $65-$199; 877-250-2929; sunsetboulevardthemusical.com
BOTTOM LINE Less grandiose revival, very touching Close
She is big. It’s the production that got small.
Glenn Close’s Norma Desmond and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard” have returned to Broadway for a limited run in a far less grandiose version than the extravaganza that won seven Tony Awards in 1995. (That was a year, not to be snotty about it, when the only other musical contender was “Smokey Joe’s Café.”)
In fact, there is something fitting, even satisfying about this less elaborate, modest incarnation — if modest is not too foolish a word for an economical event that still begins with a drowned corpse in the air, dresses Close in outrageous gold splendor by the original costume designer, Anthony Powell, and has a 40-piece orchestra onstage. The musical is presented here in the familiar Encores! style of semi-staged revivals by the English National Opera, directed by Lonny Price, and, surprisingly, feels less like a hokey entertainment straining for artistic importance than did the original.
And Close, more than two decades later, is just as daring but less campy and even more touching as the aging movie queen made iconic by Gloria Swanson in Billy Wilder’s 1950 film. Always more of an actress than a singer, Close has a voice that now lets us feel the hollow depth of a desperately, grotesquely, undeniably poignant woman — aged out of diva prime.
Almost as important is the casting of Michael Xavier, the first Joe Gillis I’ve seen to capture William Holden’s attractive, increasingly corrupted nonchalance of Norma’s boy toy. Xavier flirts too much with the audience when he emerges dripping from the pool, but the actor has a leading man’s charm and a voice to match.
James Noone’s set doesn’t have Norma’s original gigantic palazzo staircase, but there are towering metal steps for her to climb theatrically, as well as a hanging stalk of bundled chandeliers, effective projections of old films and exquisite use of lights on the Palace Theatre’s own ornate décor.
The show still turns Wilder’s acidic movie classic about the Hollywood dream machine into a sort of theme park operetta noir, interrupted by happy young actors singing and dancing about their ambitions. Oh, and the souvenir table sells the Norma Desmond Limited Collection of jewelry. Dangling earrings range from $35 to $55. Like the merchandise, the show is a limited edition selling paste and glitter as treasures. As long as we know what we’re getting, however, costume jewelry — especially packaged with the very real Glenn Close — can be fun.