BY VICTORIA SCHNEPS AND BOB NESOFF
The adage notes that “What’s old is new again,” and nowhere else is that as true than on Broadway. Fortunately most revivals are quality, although there are exceptions, such as the first rebirth of the wonderful “Les Miserables.” Broadway and the French Revolution both could have done without it.
Sometimes, however, Broadway revivals strike gold, as it does with the current incarnation of “Sunset Boulevard” starring Glenn Close. There’s little doubt that whatever Close takes on, it will be a tour de force. She does not disappoint in her current endeavor.
The Andrew Lloyd Webber musical began life as a movie in 1950 about a long-in-the-tooth actress, Norma Desmond, who lives in an old Hollywood mansion and spends her days dreaming of a comeback. She’s given hope when a never-been young screenwriter, Joe Gillis, appears on the doorstep of the has-been actress.
The two take on a circuitous route to hopeful stardom when Gillis becomes co-author of a screenplay not worthy of a high school production that she is writing in hopes of a comeback. Joe becomes Norma’s lover as she fades deeper and deeper into a fantasy world.
The show first made its way to Broadway in 1994, with Close taking a Tony Award home for her performance. But, according to director Lonny Price, the script has been updated somewhat to make Norma Desmond “more real and less of a grotesque figure.”
“In the 1990s people looked unfavorably at a woman in her 50s having an affair with a young man just turned 30,” Price commented. “Today there isn’t even a second glance or thought.”
Price moved to change the lavish scenery and sets for the original production and this one is what some might call “minimalist.” While the original was lavish (Price thought it detracted from focusing on the characters) this one is rather sparse, giving the audience more of an opportunity to focus on the characters rather than moving sets and scenery.
Price took umbrage at some of the comments in the British press when the show debuted there last year. The English National Opera production was called “semi-staged.”
Price contended it was a full production with “singing, dancing and costumes and scenery just what we wanted it to be.” In London there was a 48-piece orchestra while in New York the musicians were pared by eight.
Lloyd Webber’s score here in New York is truly symphonic. Recognizable songs include “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened” and “As If We Never Said Goodbye.”
“Sunset Boulevard” opened earlier this month at the Palace Theater, 1564 Broadway, with a limited run and is scheduled to close on May 28. Tickets start at $79. Show times are Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m.; the theater’s closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.