Sounds of Sunset

Lindsay Timmington

OnStage New York Columnist

The film Sunset Boulevard is ranked number 12 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 best American films of the 20th century and is deemed "culturally, historically and aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress. If you haven't seen it, do. It's an incredible movie about a time in film history when aging silent movie stars haunted extravagant Hollywood houses, no longer relevant in the quickly changing world of film.

I saw the National Tour of Sunset Boulevard in 1997 as a sixteen year old.  I remember the awe-inspiring set and sweeping music. (My personal favorite in the  Weber canon) The National Tour was forced pare down tour stops due to the extravagant set and high running costs--it was, quite simply, spectacular. The current Broadway production is a completely re-imagined production stripped bare of spectacle and it works--it's hauntingly beautiful because without spectacle, what the spotlight hits is the heart of the story and the music.

Broadway musicals seem to be playing with bare-bones design concepts this season and I absolutely love the result. While Sunset Boulevard is no exception, I would go so far as to say that the production design, orchestra and musical direction are the biggest reasons (if not the only) to see this show.  I found myself craving the solo instrumental and visual moments because they were by far the most effective part of this production. They told the story the best.

There's an inherent danger in stripping a Broadway musical down to the bones when you have a weak book or tired actors or clumsy timing.  The not-so-great parts that can often be covered by spectacle's slight of hand are nakedly exposed when your set consists of a series of crisscrossing staircases, projections and the use of the theatre design itself (an extraordinary touch). In this production the acting is subpar, the voices are uncommanding, the timing and cues are amateur and the cast chemistry is, well, non-existent.  Unfortunately, this production is really only worth seeing for the brilliant orchestration, instrumentalists and production design.

But oh, Glenn Close. Glenn Close--there's no denying her talent and prowess. However, I wish I could say that her heartbreaking performance was phenomenal because she easily stepped back into the role she created years ago but unfortunately (or maybe perfectly if you really think about it) I found her performance heartbreaking because her voice is tired and strained and she just can't meet the requirements for this powerhouse role.

I worried for her during the big belting moments and cringed when she dropped lines. I'd like to say she's amazing in the role, because Glenn Close is amazing, but unfortunately with this revival I think she's amazing because watching her flounder and struggle through numbers made the division between actor and character blurry, and a little uncomfortable. And a little beautiful. It strikes close to the heart of the story, and was both sad and beautifully perfect.

But at the end of the day, the real star of this show, the real spotlight stealer is the design, direction and absolutely spine-tingling orchestration & musical direction. There's a reason thatthe gorgeously-talented Musical Director,  Kristen Blodgette is welcomed into the curtain call after Glenn Close's bow. There's a reason that the entire, extraordinary talented orchestra (predominantly female!) is the focal point of this production. The music and the projections not only transported me but also perfectly captured the soul of Sunset Boulevard in a way that the rest of the production simply couldn't.

Go see Sunset Boulevard to marvel at Glenn Close (could you do eight shows a week at age 70?!) but stay until the very last note is played to appreciate the real stars of this show--Kristen Blodgette and her 40 piece orchestra. She's the one you'll want signing your Playbill at the stage door. They're ready for their close-up, and it's about damn time.