Those clamouring for Glenn Close’s musical return to Broadway won’t be disappointed. She gives a suitably grandiose performance as the reclusive screen legend Norma Desmond in Lonny Price’s production of Sunset Boulevard. Close more than matches the fiery energy of the 40-piece orchestra. With extravagant gestures, sensationalised poses, and enough shiny, lavish leisure wear to bedazzle Liberace, she makes certain Desmond will forever loom large, even if the pictures around her got small.
Despite the scenery chewing (which may likely be the draw), the production lacks an acerbic bite. It plays the would-be tragedy as bright and sunny. This is a musical that is after all narrated by a corpse (whose early exit and later return from the rafters creates one of several awkward staging moments).
Michael Xavier – making his Broadway debut after starring in the English National Opera production in London – is an affable Joe Gillis, the cynical screenwriter at the end of his Hollywood rope who lets Desmond ensnare him. He beams during his romantic parrying with Siobhan Dillon’s unguarded Betty, the idealist, aspiring screenwriter who reminds Joe why he first came to this crazy town. But Xavier’s natural effulgence (surely a boon in other roles) can sometimes work against this beleaguered character’s inner darkness. Joe’s moral conundrum gets muddled.
With the orchestra taking up prime real estate on stage, the production’s design is scaled down from its original Broadway run. Yet, the elaborate scaffolding with decorative touches effectively serves as a skeleton of the Paramount backlot, movie sets, and the desolate Desmond mansion.