I had the pleasure to take the journey along Sunset Boulevard once again last night (Feb. 19) and am thrilled to report that the performers and the production have never been in better shape or in better hands for that matter. As Norma Desmond, Betty Buckley continues to amaze and to grow in the role each time I see her perform. This is my third Buckley outing: the first time was in London (her second night back after her appendectomy, when she performed opposite Joe Gillis understudy Glyn Kerslake); the second was her thrilling, teary performance on her Broadway opening night (where she delivered an exceptional "As If We Never Said Goodbye," receiving a standing ovation during and after the song); and the third and, I believe, best performance was last night opposite "Central Park West" actor John Barrowman, who substituted for ten performances for the vacationing Alan Campbell.
Buckley and Barrowman are a dynamic duo, indeed. There is a palpable sexual chemistry between the two stars that enhances their onstage relationship. There is no question that this Joe Gillis cares for, even loves, Norma, which makes the events that unfurl in the second act even more tragic.
Barrowman is a boyishly handsome Joe Gillis, and his dazzling looks and all-American smile help him capture the audience from the start. His rendition of the title song is not only well-sung but forcefully acted, too. He also possesses a tenderness that strengthens Norma and Joe's relationship, enhancing such scenes as "New Ways to Dream," where Norma and Joe watch "Joan of Arc," one of her classic silent films.
As for Ms. B, she has never looked nor acted more like a silent star than she did last night, and continues to move me throughout, especially during her re-enactment of "Joan of Arc." There was also a great sense of fun during Norma and Joe's tango in "The Perfect Year," and the slap that sends Joe off to Artie's New Year's party was particularly effective.
Both performers were in great voice as well: Buckley delivered a slowed-down, heavily nuanced version of "With One Look." Her decision to close the vowel at the end of "With one look, I'll be me" made her reprise of the line at the end of the evening that much more demented when she sings, almost with a grunt, "I'll be m(ay)." She also sailed through "As If We Ever Said Goodbye"--hurling out note after note, and she sounded the best I had ever heard her on "The Perfect Year." Her placement was very focused, and she smoothly made the transition from belt to head voice. So, I'll end with this question. When will we get a full Sunset recording with Betty Buckley as Norma; since she and Mr. Barrowman make such a great pairing, how about a live recording with the two of them? Just a thought. . .
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching!