SUNSET BOULEVARD (Through Nov.
Reviewed by David-Edward Hughes
That "Downtown" gal
Petula Clark makes the move to Sunset Boulevard quite impressively
in the Susan H. Schulman-directed tour of the Andrew Lloyd Webber
spectacle, based on the classic Billy Wilder film. Derek McLane's
clever set is scaled down from the wonderment of the
London/L.A./Broadway original with its show-stealing hydraulics.
McLane's set, ideally lit by designer Peter Kaczorowski, is
eminently effective and eerie, with movable towers of movie studio
props framing the action, and a still-grand but decaying Hollywood
mansion at the center of things.
"Sunset Boulevard," presented by PACE Theatrical
Group and Columbia Artists Theatricals, in association with
Jon B. Platt, at the Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St.,
Seattle. Aug. 3-15, 1999. (206) 292-2787. Tour continues
Sept. 7-12 at Grady Gammage Auditorium, Mill Ave. and Apache
Blvd., Tempe, Ariz., (602) 965-3434; Sept. 13-19 in
Portland, Ore.; Sept. 20-26 in Salt Lake City, Utah; Sept.
27-Oct. 3 in Sacramento, California; Oct. 5-10 at the
Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, $33-57,
(213) 480-3232; Oct. 13-Nov. 7 at the Curran Theater, 445
Geary Blvd., San Francisco, $32-77, (415) 512-7770; Nov.
8-14 in Palm Desert, Calif., and Nov. 15-21 in Albuquerque,
Overall, Schulman's Sunset
is more character-focused and compassionate, and we follow the
tragic yet darkly comic saga of faded 1920s movie siren Norma
Desmond more easily, thanks also to rescuing a good bit of Don Black
and Christopher Hampton's book from recitative and making it into
The plot about a Hollywood hack
screenwriter becoming the ghost writer cum gigolo of a seemingly
dotty, forgotten silent screen star who leads him down the path to
destruction is sometimes well served in the musicalization,
sometimes not. Norma's big songs "Surrender," "With One Look," and
"As If We Never Said Goodbye," the latter two with Amy Powers'
lyrics, are far superior to Joe's ludicrous title song and the
Evita-tinged ensemble numbers.
Still, Clark and company work
wonders with their less than perfect material. Pitching her voice
tightly into a Katharine Hepburn-like Yankee bark, running the gamut
from scheming bitch goddess to Mary Pickford innocent and finally to
utter madness, Clark delivers a Norma that is dramatically the
equal, but on its own terms, to Glenn Close's, and she sings her
songs with a still rich, powerful voice, rarely wandering into any
of her familiar pop vocalist inflections. She also looks great in
Anthony Powell's original elaborate costumes. Lewis Cleale rightly
plays Joe Gillis more like the William Holden screen version, a user
who ends up being used, and he gives more to his so-so songs than
they give back. Cleale has strong chemistry with both Clark and with
Sarah Uriarte Berry's feisty, brainy Betty Schaefer. Choreographer
Kathleen Marshall gives the staging of the Betty/Joe duet "Too Much
In Love To Care" a funny, Jeanette-and-Nelson spin that makes the
number work for the first time. Allen Fitzpatrick is vocally
outstanding and emotionally on-target as Max Norma's first husband
and former film director, now her butler/caretaker, and George
Merner is fine as Cecil B. DeMille.
The ensemble members are
game and versatile, and are especially fun to watch as they gape,
tear up, and puzzle over Norma's return to the studio. Sunset
Boulevard may have missed classic musical status, but the current
tour is a must for both Webber and Clark fans.