New York's latest Norma Desmond had her official opening Sept. 12, and Sunset Boulevard fanatics (myself included) can rest easy. To take nothing away from the magnificent Betty Buckley or the part's London originator, the wonderful Patti LuPone, Elaine Paige has arrived on Broadway after an 18-year wait and has made the part all her own, bringing her powerhouse voice to Andrew Lloyd Webber's epic musical.
When Paige lets her voice soar, as she does in Webber's two anthems, "With One Look" and "As If We Never Said Goodbye," it is an unbeatable experience. The lush sound and the sheer power of her voice are, to put it simply, incredible. Her final notes of "With One Look" the "With one look, I'll be me" passage threaten to blow the roof right off the theatre. And when she announces "This world's waited long enough. I've come home at last" in "As If We Never Said Goodbye" it is thrilling theatre. If you've never had the opportunity to see Paige in London, don't let this chance of a lifetime pass you by. Her singing is not to be missed.
And, her acting is equally enjoyable. Paige is a hoot in the part, echoing the style of the real originator of the role, Gloria Swanson. Sitting through Paige's Norma is a joy -- just watch her reaction when she returns to Paramount Studios for the first time in decades. When the spotlight shines on her, her reaction to this intrusion is overwhelmingly moving (see reviews below). Similarly, her defiance in "New Ways to Dream" is riveting. When she sings "We'll show them all...," she jumps up, arms flailing, a force to be reckoned with.
So Sunset Boulevard fans, I have four words for you: Get to the Minskoff! Like two of her predecessors, Betty Buckley and Patti LuPone, Paige gives a performance that you'll remember for a lifetime.
And just don't take my word for it. Here are some of Paige's reviews from Sept. 13's papers:
Ben Brantley in The New York Times:
". . .Once Norma arrives on the movie set of her former director, Cecil B. DeMille, in the show's second act, however, Ms. Paige is on terra firma and she stays there right through the curtain calls. When a spotlight is turned on this Norma, Ms. Paige reacts like a vampire tasting blood after centuries of hibernation. The moment is the setup for the musical's one great breakout song, "As If We Never Said Goodbye," Norma's lusty paean to movie making.
And Ms. Paige milks it with a voice and a desperation-edged star presence that are large enough to fill Times Square and at least temporarily erase memories of Normas past.
From then on, Ms. Paige's performance reminds us that what really makes a star big isn't physical beauty or even talent but an almost rabid force of will. That's what gave Swanson's interpretation its chilling edge. Here Ms. Paige combines her own determination to seduce New York with her character's determination to cling to lost grandeur, and the result is both scary and dazzling.
It's almost enough to make one forgive the brain-scrambling repetition of the four or five jingle-like melody lines that dominate Mr. Lloyd Webber's score. That's saying something. Ms. Paige seems likely to keep this lumbering colossus of a musical alive for a good while yet."
Aileen Jacobson in Newsday:
"She comes up to about her leading man's chin and that's with the stiletto heels and the turban but her voice soars to the rafters. British star Elaine Paige, making her Broadway debut in the high-diva role of Norma Desmond, possesses a set of pipes to rival those of the magnificent organ that's built into Norma's ornate Hollywood palazzo. Paige commands the stage whenever she sings the anthems that Andrew Lloyd Webber composed for the aging silent movie star whose attempt at a "return" puts her in the limelight in a wholly unintended way. Her "With One Look" and "As If We Never Said Goodbye" electrify the theatre. This is the Norma, as the lyrics constantly remind us, who taught the world "new ways to dream" and who "won't surrender."
Howard Kissel in Daily News:
"...Another fresh moment in her performance which is, remarkably enough, her New York debut is in the pivotal scene where she makes what she imagines is her triumphant return to Paramount to see Cecil B. DeMille. When an old-timer operating a spotlight recognizes her and focuses it on her, Paige does not preen. She indicates, if only briefly, that she regards it as her enemy. She locks eyes with her antagonist and rises to the occasion defiantly.
Paige's response to the spotlight is the most interesting of the three actresses I have seen in the role. . .She is not always able to resist the camp manner the dialogue often invites, but clearly her great strength is her voice, which makes it astonishing we have not seen her before.
Paige, who starred in Cats, Evita, Chess and Anything Goes in London, is a powerhouse singer. Her voice has great range, remarkable clarity and emotional force.
She can sing quietly and eloquently as she does in her first number, "Surrender," . . . or with haunting intensity, as she does in "With One Look." ... "
David Patrick Stearns in USA Today:
"[Paige] made her Broadway debut in Sunset Boulevard Thursday (*** 1/2 out of four for Paige; ** for the show) after a long-running success with the role in England. . . Judging from her portrayal of Sunset's Norma Desmond, the unhinged silent film actress who loves and kills a younger man, one can only hope she'll immigrate here permanently and get a vehicle more worthy of her talent.
Paige is a diminutive (and difficult to costume) woman with chameleon looks and an all-purpose singing voice healthy enough to cut through the din of the heavily microphoned orchestras now standard in British megamusicals. Yet sheer willpower and talent make her as vivid as Gloria Swanson; she projects the self-dramatizing air of a woman whose real life has become a movie with herself as the eccentric star.
Paige plays Norma's egotism as only the surface of a bottomless need for attention that sucks dry everything in its path. The famous mad scene unfolds as a woman reliving the best moments of her life rather than as a flashy star turn. . ."
Clive Barnes in New York Post: