by Ed Kaufman|
October 7, 1999
After a long stay at the Shubert Theater in Century City, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s acerbic showbiz musical, "Sunset Boulevard" (with music by Webber and book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton) is back for a short stay on Hollywood Boulevard, close to some of the icons of the industry.
And this version is a striking, glitzy, engaging, first-rate production. Susan H. Shulman's direction is sure and swift, while Anthony Powell's costumes are colorful and 1950's lush. Credit Derek McLane with the scenic design (floor-to-ceiling columns filled with studio props as well as an oversized, splendidly decadent Sunset Boulevard mansion) and thank Peter Kaczorowski for the moody lighting.
All seems correct at the art deco Pantages, a 1930's movie palace and for a decade the home of the Academy Awards. What better place to tell the story of the aging, deranged silent-movie queen Norma Desmond, who dreams of making a comeback. And of down-on-his-luck young screenwriter Joe Gillis, who stumbles into her Sunset Boulevard mansion and her life.
As Desmond, Petula Clark is terrific – a singer who can act. She's peevish, feisty, vain and playful. Above all, she's a star and a real no-nonsense manipulator, a disturbed woman who can still command the attention of others. When she sings Webber's sweepingly romantic "With One Look," "New Ways To Dream," and "As If We Never Said Goodbye," we are captivated.
Lewis Cleale is convincing and compelling as Gillis, the writer who comes to Hollywood to tell "real stories". He is certainly no match for the willful Desmond and soon becomes her man about the mansion. A fine tenor, he effectively sings the cynical title song about the price of fame in filmdom.
Christeena Micelle Riggs is a fine and lovely Betty Schaefer, the idealistic young writer who falls for Joe. Their "Too Much In Love to Care" duet (sung on a Paramount backlot) is full of charm and hope – if only for a brief moment.
Allen Fitzpatrick creates a sturdy Max von Mayerling, the enigmatic lone servant in the mansion. Once a silent-film director and a former husband of Desmond, both von Mayerling and Cecil B. DeMille (George Merner) vocally remind us that Norma Desmond was once "The Greatest Star of All.”