So Many Dreams to Tease the Heart: Musings on the First Preview Performance of Sunset Boulevard – February 2, 2017

Sunset Boulevard has come home at last.

As mentioned early on in this blog, Sunset Boulevard is one of my all-time favorite musicals, based on the 1950 film of the same name about the Hollywood studio system’s treatment of a faded movie star and a jaded writer. I’ve been a fan of the musical since its inception back in the early 1990’s, and followed all the off stage drama that occurred back then (reference in an early blog post here). The initial Broadway production ran a little of three years, closing in 1997, and there had been two touring productions not too long after its closure (I had seen the second touring production in 2000 in Boston). While there had been regional productions across the US and overseas in the ensuing years, the first major revival was in 2016 with a semi-staged production in London at the ENO (English National Opera) starring Glenn Close, who originated the role on Broadway. After its successful run in London, it seemed only a matter of time when that production would find its way to New York, and is now currently playing at the Palace Theatre (a few blocks away from its original home, the Minskoff) for a sixteen week run, with the four leads from London reprising their roles on Broadway.

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As mentioned earlier, I had been fortunate enough to see the original production, (though not with Glenn Close) with Betty Buckley and Elaine Paige on Broadway, and the second US National Tour with Petula Clark. Knowing beforehand that the revival would be semi-staged with a 40-piece orchestra on stage, I was curious to see how it would be done (I had not been able to fly to London last year to see that production), as the original production had opulent sets at its core, and the second US National Tour had a scaled down set design which didn’t quite match the grandeur of the original production. The overall set design for the current production had an industrial feel, with a maze of staircases and balcony landings and furniture brought on and off the set by the cast. Per the press releases and various online interviews with director Lonny Price, this semi-staged production was meant to look more like the backlot of a Hollywood set, wherein Joe Gillis would narrative the events as if it were scenes from a movie. This is emphasized with the use of black and white film clips (I’m not sure if they were from specific films or just old news reel footage) projected onto a scrim. Also, the clever use of lighting to shift from Norma’s house to Paramount Studios, gave the illusion of a multitude of different sets.

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This is the third first preview performance I’ve seen thus far in my theater-going experience, and the third time seeing the revival of a show of which I saw the original production as well (I hope that made sense). The cast was amazing and hearing this Andrew Lloyd Webber score (with new orchestrations) performed by a 40-piece orchestra was thrilling – I sincerely hope a new cast recording is made. Glenn Close received a thunderous entrance ovation and a standing ovation after “As If We Never Said Goodbye” (with another rousing ovation after singing the line “I’ve come home at last”). As this production aimed to be a stripped down version of itself, it worth noting that Ms. Close’s portrayal of Norma Desmond has also been toned down – this Norma Desmond is not as overly melodramatic (through there are moments of melodrama) as before, making her less of a monstrous figure and more of a real person clinging on to her illusions of grandeur. Michael Xavier was brilliant as Joe Gillis narrating his story with equal amounts of charm and cynicism – in this production he also serves as the director of the story, cueing scene transitions and observing almost abstractly at the events of which he experienced as they were unfolding. The story of Sunset Boulevard is more about Joe, and it’s taken me this long to realize that Joe is on stage throughout the entire show up until (spoiler alert) he’s shot dead and falls into the swimming pool (also inventively staged).

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The stage door was packed, and I didn’t stay too long – the crowds were overwhelming and it was a chilly night – but I did manage to see some of the ensemble cast, who were elated by the audience response. Needless to say I’ll be seeing Sunset many, many times in the next sixteen weeks, so there’ll be plenty of opportunities to meet the cast. I really hope a new cast recording is made, and perhaps a film adaptation (preferably with this cast). While the ticket prices are steep (but then again, it’s s limited run, so I guess its justified) there are $42 rush tickets available (though not specified in the ads, the rush seats are for the rear mezzanine and balcony), and they won’t be at the TKTS booth (per the box office person with whom I spoke).

Opening night is February 9th.

For more information, visit: http://sunsetboulevardthemusical.com/

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One Day Like This – Sarah Brightman Dreamchaser CD signing at Barnes & Noble – April 16, 2013

As stated in a previous blog, in this age of digital downloads and streaming audio, the act of purchasing a physical CD seems downright antiquated; nevertheless, one distinct advantage an actual CD copy has over a digital download is that an artist can sign the CD booklet (or the CD itself). My most recent CD purchase was Dreamchaser, the most recent album by Sarah Brightman, one of my favorite recording artists, and the one singer who tours the United States on a fairly regular basis. I first discovered the wondrous voice that is Sarah Brightman whilst listening to the Original London Cast Recording of Phantom of the Opera, and followed her recording career first through her albums featuring songs from her ex-husband Andrew Lloyd Webber, and her subsequent solo recordings. I have been fortunate enough to have seen her in concert several times – though for a few of those concerts, I really didn’t actually “see” her, but her voice enveloped each of the venues she sang with great clarity.

Sarah Brightman Dreamchaser

Dreamchaser is her latest album, after a five-year absence (her last non-compilation recording had been A Winter Symphony in 2008), and as the  title implies, it has an outer space theme, as she had announced that she intends to travel to the International Space Station in the near future. The album is quite ethereal and soothing, a bit different from her previous albums. The American leg of the concert tour that was to accompany this new album was to have been last winter, but was postponed (for various reasons) to the fall of this year [the New York stop will be at Radio City Music Hall in September, of which I will be in attendance]. Dreamchaser was released in the US today, and to accompany that, there was a CD signing at the Barnes & Noble on the Upper East Side. The CD signing was just that – it had been announced that there would not be a performance, though the Dreamchaser album was played throughout the store prior to the start of the CD signing.

As my wont, I arrived at the Barnes & Noble early, and a short line had already formed by the time I arrived [prior to the 9AM opening]. Once again, as the doors opened, I made my way to the music section, while a good number of the people who were waiting in line ahead of me inexplicably made their way to the lower level, where the CD signing was to take place; those people eventually made their way back to the upper level to purchase their CDs [once again, limit two per customer] and the (pink) wristband for guaranteed entry. And once again, as I do, I plunked myself down (comfortably) outside the glass doors to wait (and be first in line); as this was the same Barnes & Noble store as my previous visit, the shelves around me were of science fiction, fantasy and mystery novels. And once again, I never got around to reading any of them, as I struck up conversations with fellow Sarah Brightman fans, discussing the merits and differences between her previous albums.

A formal line began to form around 1PM and grew steadily as the time of the CD signing was to commence [at 5PM]; interestingly the line didn’t just form along the side shelves, but snaked through the free-standing shelves in that area. Once the doors opened (around 4:30, I think, I didn’t look at my watch) another interesting deviation occurred – those who were in line first were seated furthest away from the CD signing area (but were assured that they would be the first to get their CDs signed). Ms. Brightman appeared just after 5PM and posed for some press photos before the actual signing took place. As the CD booklet was of glossy stock, she signed the CD itself, personalizing them as she signed; as I was among the first in line, it had been announced that there would not be the opportunity for posed photos with Ms. Brightman (a rule that somehow changed after I had gotten my CD signed). Having learned of this change, I proceeded back into the CD signing room with Jeannie, a fellow Sarah Brightman fan I had met whilst waiting, to get a photo with her (which thankfully I was able to get).

Sarah Brightman at Barnes & Noble

Me and Sarah Brightman

Ms. Brightman was lovely and gracious as always, chatting with the more loquacious fans (I’m quite an introvert and didn’t have the wherewithal to say anything beyond “Thank you”), accepting the gifts that some fans brought her, and happily posed for photos (while seated). She then signed another stack of CDs (of which would be on sale at Barnes & Noble) before I was able to get my photo with her (after which Jeannie and I were ushered out of the room). Not long after we left the store, she emerged again to her car, so it was an added treat to catch a glimpse of her again before she left. Needless to say it was a wonderful experience to have met her in such an intimate space – truly a close encounter with the theatrical kind.

Signed Dreamchaser CD