Theatre Review: Sunset Boulevard, Palace Theatre, NYC

Before the performance, Glenn Close announced that she had been sick and that her voice was not at full strength but there was nowhere she’d rather be than with us tonight. She is obviously a classy actor and woman, and her performance, a return to her Tony-winning performance from about a decade ago, was amazing. She is charismatic and commands the stage, and portrays the rather monstrous Norma Desmond with menace and lunacy. I am as immune to the starmaker machinery as anyone else, and found it exciting to see a famous actor performing in a lead role on stage.

But as for the rest of the musical, my expression was not unlike that of Norma above: hand on my brow, clutching my dress. What a dog of a show! The music, aside from the two hit songs, is monotonous and repetitive. Like, really repetitive. The opening number is a killer, and not in a good way. Characters repeating back and forth, in a sort of dialogue, the exact same musical line. It is lite classical? Children’s songs? Slowed down Gilbert and Sullivan? I wasn’t sure, but it was not the rich, complex and orchestral pieces raved about by some reviewers. It was cloying and often annoying (to use the same simplistic rhymes and cadences as much of the book).

The story is just as bad. As valiant the actors were, and as beautiful as their voices were, I couldn’t muster up any interest or sympathy for the writer who comes under Norma Desmond’s spell. He seemed lacking in willpower. Too cynical to chase success. Why root for him to fall in love with the more appropriate ingenue?

Having the full orchestra on stage was distracting. My better half said that he wants to be transported by a musical, not see the mechanics, not see the conductor on stage moving the pieces. The cast mainly climbed up and down stairs, or performed, static, in front of the orchestra. There were mystifying bits with people running around simulating headlights of cars, and the various projections just confused me as to what they were, rather than helped the story along.

All the worse off, since we saw Hello Dolly the same day in a matinee performance. But I think it would have failed under any circumstance. This musical was definitely not ready for its close-up, nor a close-up analysis.

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