Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Broadway Theater Review: Sunset Boulevard

Glenn Close. Photo: Joan-Marcus.
With One Look, It's As if She Never Said Goodbye
By Lauren Yarger
Glenn Close reprises the role which won her a Tony n 1995 and brings down the house in retooled version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard.

Close delivers a mature, yet more fragile Norma Desmond and when it comes time for her close up, we're surprised by the number of layers that have been revealed beneath the facade of a has-been movie star.

Despite Close's tour-de-force performance, which stops the show with "As If We Never Said Goodbye" and "with One Look," director Lonny Price's skilled direction keeps the other performances from being lost in the sweep of one of Norma's many flowing, glittering outfits (costumes designed by Tracy Christensen). In fact, some of Close's co-stars, who reprise their roles from the company's sold-out and acclaimed run in London's West End, add nuance to the characters.

We have lots of actors we could compare them too, but there is no need. Michael Xavier is a handsome, silky-voiced Joe McGillis, a down-on-his-luck Hollywood screen writer who stumbles into a sweet deal at Nora's mausoleum-like mansion on Sunset Boulevard. The actress lives alone with her chauffeur/servant Max von Mayerling (Fred Johanson, who made me fall just a little bit in love every time he sang in his deep baritone). But the free lodgings and clothes Joe receives while pretending to edit a horrible script Norma has penned to pave the way for her comeback on the big screen come at too high a price. Joe feels trapped when Norma declares she's "mad about the boy" and manipulates his emotions to hold onto her lover while her own mental facilities decline.

Both of Norma's men come into focus in a way I hadn't seen previously in the original Broadway production or in the Billy Wilder Film on which the musical (with a book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton) is based. Joe is meaner, calculating and less sympathetic; Max is less transparent and we notice his sacrifice and pain.  

Siobhan Dillon lends a lovely soprano as she sings the part of Betty Schaefer, with whom Joe falls in love as they work on a screenplay together.

The score sounds fabulous thanks to the huge 40-piece orchestra which takes up the rear of the stage. It is the largest orchestra to play a Broadway show in 80 years. Music Supervision and Direction is by Kristen Blodgette, who was brought out for the curtain call. It was well deserved. The first strains of "With One Look" brought goosebumps and its finale brought an extended ovation for Close -- those not as long as the one she received for "As If We Never Said Goodbye."

OK, so what's not to like about this fourth Lloyd Webber musical currently playing on Broadway (it joins CATS, School of Rock and Phantom of the Opera)? 

While Close's performance is stunning, her singing voice is less than optimal, especially in the higher ranges. It works because she acts through the songs and an older singing voice isn't completely out of place in a show about an aging movie star, but I think her voice sounded a bit strained and I would have loved to have these favorite songs belt me out of my seat.

The set is minimally designed by James Noone for this concert staging, but it was very hard not to miss the opulent split set of the original production. Having Joe's dead body floating overhead throughout lends an ominous feeling to the production at first, but loses intensity by the end of the two hours and 40 minutes and is a bit distracting. I also wasn't crazy about people masquerading as cars (by carrying flashlights simulating headlights. If it's a concert version, so be it.)

These are minor complaints. Go see this piece of theater history before the sun sets on Sunset. The run has been extended through June 25 at the Palace Theatre,  1564 7th Ave., NYC. Performances are Wednesdays at 2 and 8 pm; Thursdays at 7 pm; Fridays at 8 pm;  Saturdays at 2 and 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm. Tickets are $65-$199: www.ticketmaster.com/sunset; 877-250-2929.

Additional cast:
Nancy Anderson, Mackenzie Bell, Barry Busby, Preston Truman Boyd, Britney Coleman, Julian Decker, Anissa Felix, Drew Foster, David Hess, Brittney Johnson, Katie Ladner, Stephanie Martignetti, Lauralyn McClelland, T. Oliver Reid, Lance Roberts, Stephanie Rothenberg, Graham Rowat, Paul Schoeffler, Andy Taylor, Sean Thompson, Matt Wall and Jim Walton.

-- Language
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Horoscope
-- Suicide attempt

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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