There’s nothing like waking up Saturday morning and finding out we won lottery tickets to the Broadway production Sunset Boulevard for $55. Widely considered the highest level of commercial theater, we were quickly hooked on Broadway performances. Typically, Broadway shows usually range about $100-$500. In the past four months, we have won over ten Broadway show lottery tickets consisting of Tony Award-winning shows Phantom of the Opera, Lion King, Chicago, Kinky Boots, and School of Rock. Because we win so many shows in a short amount of time, when we won Sunset Boulevard this morning, we had to decide whether it was worth going to. Never hearing of that production before and running out of time to get there before the show, I concluded it was too much hassle to buy the tickets.
With that decision, I went about my usual morning routines. Out of curiosity, I did a casual internet search, which surprisingly revealed that the production is a revival from an award-winning Tony Musical in the 1990s with the award-winning lead actress herself performing today. Gaping at the success of this strange title, I only had minutes left before the purchasing window closes, so I quickly bought the tickets. We had just enough time to grab $1 pizza for lunch, then rush to the theater.
Sunset Boulevard tells a story of a Hollywood silent film fading star, Norma Desmond. She yearns for the glory days of the past, taking the audience through her emotional roller coaster of frustrations, insecurities, and everlasting hope. Wishing to make a “return” to Hollywood, Norma writes a script for a film. When a struggling screenwriter, Joe Gillis, accidentally stumbles into her mansion, Norma hires him as her editor. She then takes him on her roller coaster ride of a life. Without much freedom to decide his fate, Joe is forced to accompany Norma through her bouts of depression, bordering insane.
The female lead role is played by Glenn Close, the same lead actress who won the Tony Musical Award for Lead Female Actress twenty years ago. Close performed a chilling performance, her character was so fragile, determined, hopeful. Since her performance twenty years ago, Close came back with a role that matches with Norma Desmond. Both were huge stars in the past, and now coming back into the performing world. Her performance was so real, it was difficult to tell if it was Norma Desmond or Glenn Close who was on the stage. Her special return to Broadway did not disappoint. Halfway through her song “With One Look,” her voice cracked, as if it was too much strain on her. Whether it was a real strain on her voice or if she is just in character as Norma, it was hard to tell. However, it was unanimous by the end of the night that her portrayal of Norma is ever more fragile and bitter than twenty years ago.
In all the hype of Glenn Close’s performance, it might have been easy overlook other supporting characters. However, it was Michael Xavier, playing Joe Gillis, that took us into Norma’s mad world. It felt as if I was following Alice and her bizarre, wonderful and terrifying journey through Wonderland. Xavier did a fantastic job depicting the lurking horrors of the mansion through the song, “Sunset Boulevard.” Max, Norma’s trusted companion and butler, shows undying loyalty towards her. He supports her by directing all her performances and protects her from people who may hurt her.
Sunset Boulevard embodies several key themes. Norma is consumed by her desire to be famous. She is blinded by that, only believing that she is still the star the audience is waiting for. She had manipulated Joe into staying with her by threatening to suicide. Max lied to Norma to save her feelings from getting hurt. Hollywood was fake, and the fakeness is contagious; to be part of it, Joe becomes fake too. Unbeknownst to him, Joe becomes a victim of the Sunset Boulevard life.
Like many other Andrew Lloyd Webber productions such as Phantom of the Opera, School of Rock, and Cats, his musical score turned Sunset Boulevard into a masterpiece. There was that familiar Webber signature in the theatrical music that made it his own. While listening to the music pieces, I detect similarities that could be something from Phantom, School of Rock, and Cats.
Despite my skepticism of the musical in the beginning, I was immensely glad that I had purchased the tickets. The chilling, theatrical musical scores spun with story will keep me humming for the weeks to come.