×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sunset Boulevard

The role of Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Sunset Boulevard" is a rarity in theater, a showcase for a middle-age woman. So it was with considerably more hype than normal that Toronto awaited the opening of the world's fourth production of the Lloyd Webber musical, starring 60-year-old Diahann Carroll.

With:
Cast: Diahann Carroll (Norma Desmond), Rex Smith (Joe Gillis), Anita Louise Combe (Betty Schaefer), Walter Charles (Max von Mayerling), John Braden (Cecil B. DeMille), Christopher Shyer (Artie Green).

The role of Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard” is a rarity in theater, a showcase for a middle-age woman. So it was with considerably more hype than normal that Toronto awaited the opening of the world’s fourth production of the Lloyd Webber musical, starring 60-year-old Diahann Carroll.

She follows on the heels of Glenn Close, whose Tony award-winning performance as the aging silent movie queen has become a benchmark for measuring other Normas, at least from the acting point of view. Close attended the Toronto opening, not only to see Carroll, but to support her beau Steve Beers, consulting carpenter on “Sunset.”

A celebrity-studded audience, which included Patti LaBelle, Elaine Stritch, Graham Greene and Norman Jewison, cheered Carroll’s every note in this C$ 12 million ($ 9 million) Livent presentation. But Carroll doesn’t yet have a handle on the part, and has made some acting choices that detract from, rather than enrich, the character.

Popular on Variety

Not that Close’s deeply mordant interpretation, which relied more on acting than on singing, is the only way to go. Indeed Carroll’s magnificent voice is one of the main draws in the Toronto production, which opened with a $ 7.4 million advance, according to Livent. And while she doesn’t swoop and soar with the same finesse as Patti LuPone (the world’s first musical Norma), Carroll does articulate clearly, and she imbues her words with meaning, something LuPone failed to do in the London production. Carroll’s Act 2 rendition of “As If We Never Said Goodbye” is particularly rich and moving. But it was also the first time she seemed to catch fire.

The main problem is her overblown interpretation of Norma, no doubt meant to mirror the acting style of the silent screen star whose time has come and gone. But instead of revealing Norma’s desperate loneliness, the melodramatic gestures and hysterics block any real emotions. When she falls in love with Joe (Rex Smith), the young hack writer who exploits her and pays with his life, the situation seems ridiculous rather than pathetic.

Playing Joe with dark cynicism, Broadway crooner and soap star Smith saves the night, along with Anita Louise Combe, imported from the West End, where she’s been playing the role of ingenue Betty Schaefer for two years. Combe is sincere, engaging and sings like an angel. Smith stops the show with his passionate, full-throated rendition of the show’s title song. Also turning in a strong performance is Walter Charles, as Norma’s ex-husband and butler, Max.

Director Trevor Nunn, or perhaps more accurately, production supervisor Peter Lawrence, keeps a tight pace, and Bob Avian’s musical staging remains as sparkly as John Napier’s amazing mansion and Anthony Powell’s glittering, beaded costumes.

But the real problem with “Sunset” remains Lloyd Webber’s saccharine music, still in large part unsuitable for the harsh subtext of Billy Wilder’s 1950 film , despite the combined artistry of Don Black and Christopher Hampton’s book and lyrics. In the end, it’s up to the actress playing Norma to rise above both the limitations and the visual pageantry to imprint the clone musical with a unique signature. Carroll certainly does that.

Sunset Boulevard

Ford Center for the Performing Arts/Apotex Theater, Toronto; 1,800 seats; C$93 ($69) top

Production: A Livent Inc. presentation of the Really Useful Co. production of a musical in two acts with book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, based on the film by Billy Wilder. Directed by Trevor Nunn; production supervisor, Peter Lawrence; musical direction by Jeffrey Huard; musical staging by Bob Avian; musical supervision by Paul Bogaev; orchestrations by David Cullen and Lloyd Webber.

Creative: Sets, John Napier; lighting, Andrew Bridge; costumes, Anthony Powell; sound, Martin Levan; Livent casting, Beth Russell and Arnold J. Mungioli. Opened, reviewed Oct. 15, 1995. Running time: 2 HOURS, 35 MIN.

Cast: Cast: Diahann Carroll (Norma Desmond), Rex Smith (Joe Gillis), Anita Louise Combe (Betty Schaefer), Walter Charles (Max von Mayerling), John Braden (Cecil B. DeMille), Christopher Shyer (Artie Green).With: Tim Alex, Marilyn Caskey, Betsy Chang, Michael Fawkes, Susan Gattoni, Sara Henry, Brian Hill, Mary Illes, Peter Kevoian, George Kmeck, Lisa Mandel, Marianne McCord, Gordon McLaren, Lindsey Mitchell, Martin Murphy, Avery Saltzman, Matthew Thibedeau, James Vezina.

More Legit

  • Claire Warden

    Listen: Let's Talk About Sex Onstage

    The craft of intimacy direction is taking Broadway by storm — and on the latest episode of Variety’s Stagecraft, Broadway’s first intimacy director explains why, and breaks down the ways in which she’s helping to revolutionize how actors get intimate onstage. Listen to this week’s podcast below: Warden, whose credits this season include “Jagged Little [...]

  • Dan Stevens

    Mark Addy, Dan Stevens Head Broadway Cast of 'Hangmen'

    Mark Addy and Dan Stevens will appear in the Broadway premiere of Martin McDonagh’s “Hangmen.” Addy, best known for his work on “Game of Thrones” and “The Full Monty,” starred in the off-Broadway production of the black comedy. It’s the first time Stevens, beloved for his turn on “Downton Abbey,” has appeared on the Great [...]

  • Dear Evan Hansen Jordan Fisher

    Jordan Fisher Joins 'Dear Evan Hansen' in Title Role on Broadway

    Jordan Fisher will be Broadway’s next Evan Hansen, joining the cast of “Dear Evan Hansen” in the musical’s title role. Fisher, best known to theater enthusiasts for his stint in “Hamilton” and playing Mark Cohen in Fox’s “Rent: Live,” will play the role for a limited 16-week engagement starting Jan. 28. “Evan Hansen is a [...]

  • SUBJECTS] seen at the Lincoln Center

    Lincoln Center's David Geffen Hall Set for Major Renovation

    Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall is set to undergo a major renovation that will lead to the facility being closed for months-long stretches starting in 2022. Lincoln Center and the New York Philharmonic announced Monday that the overhaul will require the temporary shuttering of Geffen Hall from May 2022 through October 2022 and again from [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content