I had an interesting conversation with Neil Rosen on what constitutes a good musical. Most people would say a complete score of fine songs like My Fair Lady or Oliver or his favorite Gigi. I tend, as a theatre man, to concentrate on performance. I esteem Ron Moody as Fagin or Julie Andrews in Sound of Music or Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. Yesterday I witnessed another memorable performance: Glenn Close as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.
My companion has now seen it three times in a fortnight. I think he was anxious to hear my views, even shape them. I needed no such inspiration as this was from the first minute a first rate show. Like most Rice/Webber musicals it will have at most 3 memorable songs and recitative but they moved the genre on by showcasing big personalities like Jesus Christ, Evita and Norma Desmond. Neil rates Sunset Boulevard in his top ten movies and director Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity, Some Like it Hot and The Apartment) in his top five . It’s a clever study of the paranoia and fragility of a diva whose stardom lay in the films of a different era, the silent one. Her trapped lover is an aspiring scriptwriter on the breadline about to have his car repossessed when he takes refuge in the Desmond mansion where he is kept in gilded cage. The Hollywood film featuring Glora Swanson, a young William Holden and Erich non Stroheim, is a classic and the show does not seek to emulate it, rather it explores the relationships in words and music.
Glenn Close is little less than majestic and MichaeleXavier, whom I picked out as Von Trapp in the Regents Park production of Sound of Music, a more than capable leading man. The dark gothic atmosphere of the mansion is well conveyed in the set. The whole performance is consummated bay fine orchestra. It all adds up to live performance at its best.
If you know and love the film a musical of it can be a pallid replacement. However Billy Silder approved the original rewrite by Don Black and Christopher Hampton possibly because it was true to the film story line. Some of the scenes – like the famous card scene featuring 4 stars of the Silents – did not make it in but no matter. Gloria Swanson is a hard act to follow but Glenn Close did so.