Playbill Critics Circle: Your Reviews of Sunset Boulevard

News   Playbill Critics Circle: Your Reviews of Sunset Boulevard Elaine Paige has been starring in Sunset Boulevard since August, 1996. What do you think of her performance? How is the show holding up? What do you think about it in general? The story, the songs, the performers? The critics have weighed in with their opinions; here's a chance to add your opinion to theirs.

Elaine Paige has been starring in Sunset Boulevard since August, 1996. What do you think of her performance? How is the show holding up? What do you think about it in general? The story, the songs, the performers? The critics have weighed in with their opinions; here's a chance to add your opinion to theirs.

Write your review -- long or short -- and email it to Managing Editor Robert Viagas at robert_viagas@playbill.com. Reviews will be posted as they come in. There may be some editing for space.

Please include your town and state, and please note whether you'd like us to include your full e-mail address so you can receive responses. This is optional, of course.

Here are the results so far. Playbill On-Line thanks all those who took the time to write:

From Randy Roberts/Falls (randrob@earthlink.net) Norfolk, VA:
I've seen SB 3 times. Once with Glenn Close and twice with Betty Buckley-I can't wait to see ti with Elaine Paige. I was mesmerized ny Miss Close's performances. She was the essence of a delusional silent screen diva. I was surprised she could sing as well as she did-her voice is not one one of the "biggest" or "strongest" I've heard, but I felt she did a damn good job. She WAS Norma Desmond.
The clincher for me was her first entrance down the staircase-after living in a home for as long as Norma has, one would NEVER need to look down while descinding a staircase-especially a diva like Miss Desmond-Glenn did not let me down. She floated down the stairs and through the show-confident, yet a little deranged. Let's face it, the poor girl hadn't left her house in a while and only spent time with her butler/ex-husband and the waxworks.
As far as Miss Buckley's performance-I found her Norma a bit too delicate. First of all she looked down at the steps everytime she went up or down-I feel that Glenn not only lived in that mansion, she decorated every inch of it-Betty rented the place furnished. Noone can argue with Betty's voice. It is a true gift. An instrument to be reckoned with. She brought goosebumps to my skin.
I would love to see a Norma with Glenn's vitality and Betty's voice. I enjoyed both performances, don't get me wrong. My biggest complaint about the cast was the second time I went. George Hearn was not there, and his understudy (the name slips my mind) should have been called Maxine -- kudos to Mr. Hearn-He is the stuff from which Broadway legends are made. I found Alan Campbell to be perfect for Joe Gillis. Just cocky enough. With a voice to match any of is leading ladies. Miss Ripley as well-a pleasure to watch and listen to. All in all, Sunset Boulevard has been one of my favorite Broadway Musicals yet. I plan on seeing it again and again: hopefully, with Elaine Paige. I can't wait to see who the next Norma will be. (1/1/97)


From JSNJK:
"Sunset Boulevard" is by far my most fave show on Broadway. I have seen the show a countless number of times. I have seen the following ladies in the role of Norma Desmond: Patti LuPone (an early preview), Glenn Close (twice - Dec '94 and her closing night ), Betty Buckley, Petula Clark, and Sue Mathys (German understudy ), and of course Miss Elaine Paige. I must say Elaine is the best of all the Norma Desmonds, but we will get to that later.
I don't think the quality of the show has gone down with the years, the energy level is great. But I do think it's time for some casting changes. I am getting tired of seeing Alan as Joe Gillis, he's been in the show for ever! It's time to see a new Joe. It would be great to have John Barrowman come back and do Joe on Broadway again. As in the role of Betty, Alice is good, but it's also time for someone new. The person that I can think of that would be great in the role is Anastasia Barzee. She replaced Judy Kuhn in the Los Angeles production, so she has played the role before. I recently saw her in "Miss Saigon" as Ellen ( she was AWESOME! ) and I think it would be wonderful to have her come and play Betty!
Now on to Norma. Elaine is by far the best Norma. She takes the roof off the theatre with her voice. Her acting is superb. These two qualities mesh together to make the best and greatest star of all. Patti LuPone seemed to rush through the role. Glenn was a wonderful Norma, I would place her second after Elaine! Betty Buckley - well let's say less vibrating in the voice and I really can't say much, except I did not enjoy her Norma! Petula - well let's say she sounds like a country and western singer, and why in God's name would Joe fall in love with her I have no idea. Sue Mathys, she was OK for a understudy but no star quality. (12/23/96)


From Eleni Hagen (EleniH8382@aol.com) Ridgewood, NJ:
Having seen all three of the major Normas that have inhabited 10086 Sunset Blvd. I must say that I feel Elaine Paige more than deserves all her wonderful reviews. She did an excellent job as Norma, her singing was beautiful and her acting was a joy to watch. However, I think that I enjoyed Ms. Close's and Ms. Buckley's performances more.
Elaine did use the humor and extravagance of Ms. Close's performance which generated a lot of laughs from the audience but I never did feel as sorry for Ms. Paige's Norma as I did for Ms. Buckley's.
Another thing about Ms. Paige that I'm not quite sure that I liked was her consistency. She was always this rock-solid, tough woman, where as Ms.Buckley and even Ms. Close went in and out of this manipulative character to this sincere and fragile person.
Other than this though, I loved watching Elaine and I hope to see more of her on Broadway.
As for how I feel about "Sunset" in general, I simply adore it. The actors (even after three years) are wonderful. Alan Campbell is perfect for the role of Joe, George Hearn makes wonderful Max, and Alice Ripley is a lovely Betty. All of the voices are excellent and the music is superb. Good luck to all everyone involved in Sunset and congratulations to Elaine, Alan, George and Alice. (12/22/96)


From JJRiveraR, Charlottesville, VA:
Regarding Elaine Paige's performance in "Sunset Boulevard" - she is the "Greatest Norma of All." Do go and see this show before Ms. Paige completes her run in March. If you miss her Norma Desmond, you'll have missed something quite special!
In characterizing Elaine Paige's performance as the "best", I don't mean to detract from the fine performances of Patti LuPone and Betty Buckley. Each brought their own unique talents to the role. Nevertheless, Ms. Paige's portrayal is superior in all respects. Elaine's acting is first-rate - she projects the quirkiness and desperation of the character without being "over the top". Further, it goes without saying that her singing voice is the best of any of today's female musical stars. It is powerful, clear, and resonant. One leaves the theatre in utter amazement!
I recently read that Andrew Lloyd Webber now wishes that he'd cast Paige in the role from the start. I quite agree. Glenn Close is a fine actress, but her Norma was grotesque and almost inhuman. More importantly, her singing was not up to scratch. Her voice is too weak for this score. Additionally, it lacks the emotional quality of the Paige performance.
I think "Sunset Boulevard" is finally the show it was envisioned to be. Perhaps Actor's Equity will make an exception and allow Elaine Paige to stay on beyond the normal six months allowed foreign performers. Broadway can only benefit from the presence of such a magnificent talent! (12/21/96)


From soleil102 in New York:
I thought Betty Buckley incomparable as Norma Desmond in SB; her dramatics and singing so moving that I would check the production every few months to see how Betty and the company were doing. It was an extremely happy surprise to discover yet another brilliant interpretation of Norma D. while watching Elaine Paige on her opening night. Ms Paige is a brilliant dramatic actress, with superb enunciation and expression of emotion and a wonderful voice. I found her seduction of Joe G. very plausible; and Alan Campbell's performance seemed to have stepped up a notch in response to her seductive ways. The SB company seems to be keeping its 'freshness' and with both Buckley and Paige really provided a great night out on Broadway. (12/20/96)


From Jennifer J. Bogdanski:
Despite the fact that the show includes a large ensemble, the actors in it stopped it from seeming like just a show with a few leads and a large mob. Each had their own unique characters, and kept that portrayal consistent throughout the show. This was especially fun during Artie's New Year's celebration where, instead of having a crowded stage of anybody's, it was easy to believe that it really was a party composed of Artie's friends.
I have read criticism of Alan Campbell that he has become too lax in the role of Joe Gillis. I agree that Alan Campbell is very relaxed in the role, but he is not too relaxed. On the contrary, he has Joe Gillis down perfectly. On stage, he projects the calmness and totally causal attitude that characterizes Joe. He flings his coat over his shoulder and saunters between the sets on the different trucks as if he's done this all his life. Alan Campbell has Joe's sarcasm down pat, and his passion as well. He truly shines during Joe's anthem "Sunset Boulevard".
Alice Ripley, as Betty, has a bit more of a shaky start -- this is more likely due to the script than her acting abilities. When we first meet Betty in Sheldrake's office, she insults Joe's script, not realizing that he is standing there. By the time Betty meets Joe at Schwab's Drug Store, Alice Ripley has slid into the savvy yet enthusiastic and innocent woman that Betty is. Like Alan Campbell, Alice Ripley is comfortable not only in the role but with the fast-moving set. It is easy to believe that instead of actors negotiating a set, they really are people in the familiar surroundings of an office, on a movie soundstage, at a drug store etc.
At one point in the show, when talking to Joe at the Paramount office, she twitched her feet in the manner that a real person having the conversation would have. Her flirtation with Joe is as lively as her disillusionment with him is heartbroken.
Like Alan Campbell and Alice Ripley, Elaine also seemed at home on the set (pun somewhat intended). For example, she sat down on the sofa as if it was in her own living room rather than on a stage. The fact that her voice was amazing throughout the show, goes without saying. The highlight of her performance, however, was the way she made Norma seem very human. With a character as campy as Norma, it's hard to portray her as being a real person rather than just a caricature. Elaine manages to do this by capturing Norma's spirit and projecting that into her interpretation of the role. During the Salome sequence, it was quite easy to believe that this was a script she had actually written. Her pride in the story she was telling Joe, and her enthusiasm about the script shown through vividly. When she explained the opening scene with "The river bank, the baptist, and the sinner" she pointed everything out to Joe as a movie director might -- marking off spaces in the air the way a camera would pan. She was already seeing her creation. It kept the line from sounding like explanation for explanation's sake, and instead showed the audience how "into" this movie she was.
Elaine's portrayal highlights Norma's strengths. Despite the fact that she suffers a mental collapse at the end of the show, Norma is a strong woman. She, after all, has no qualms about ordering her ex-husband about like a servant, presenting a movie script to one of the biggest directors around, or -- a bit more shocking -- plotting to seduce a much younger man. Norma throws crying fits when Joe refuses to do what she wants him to do. One of these times, rather than have Norma grovel gratefully at Joe's feet, Elaine practically grins and informs him that she knew he'd give in. This 180 in attitude makes it look as if Norma was semi-faking her outburst. Norma tries to manipulate Joe, and when she's successful, she is happy to have shown that she does have power over him. In the montage sequence at the end, I personally had never been pleased with the thrice repetition of "she kisses his mouth".
To me, it does not seem as fitting as some of the other lines, such as those from "The Perfect Year". Elaine used the repetition of the line to highlight how Norma was sinking into total despair. With almost each word, she sounded more and more distressed. By the second time through, she was already half sobbing. The third time was lost in a whisper after practically the first word. Performed in this manner, I no longer found the repetition forced, and did find Norma's torment far more real. Elaine manages to find the right balance throughout this scene between hysterics and calm madness. (11/4/96)


From Mark A. Mesarch (mmesarch@unlinfo.unl.edu) Nebraska:
I too have seen both Close and Paige do the Desmond thing and i find it very refreshing to see two totally different takes. Where Close seemed younger and more playful as Norma she had a much faster fall near the end of the show. But here posturing at the end of the "With One Look" during the SO for about 3 minutes was very haunting. Paige's Norma is slipping into the dark from the moment we meet her. This gave the creeps from the start and I loved the whole studio scene with the batting at the microphone and glowing at the lights like a deer on the country road. And even at the end when Norma shoots Joe I am still amazed at how I along with most of the audience gasped even when we know it's coming. Side bar...amazed to still see a lot of the leads still in the show after I saw it a year and half ago. An that they are still great....go George Hearn....I hope when SB comes to our community theatre in about 20 years I can have a shot at that role. (11/1/96)


From MSchroder1:
Sunset Blvd. is the best show on Broadway and always will be. I have seen 5 Normas (Glenn Close, Betty Buckley, Karen Mason, Petula Clark, and Elaine Paige) Elaine Paige is clearly has the best voice of any Norma, For me Petula Clark was the most convincing, but Elaine Paige is the best. Sunset Boulevard is the best it has ever been. I say it will run to pass A Chorus Line, and in a few months Cats. (11/1/96)


From: DRKRICE:
Having recently seen Elaine Paige as she made her Broadway debut as Norma Desmond I was amazed at the energy, magnificence, and excitement she brought to the role. I have never seen Ms. Paige perform prior to seeing her in "Sunset", but I have heard her on several recordings . . . all I can say is that nothing could have prepared me to hear her in person . . . she has such a strong, powerful, and moving voice. I had chills run up and down my back when she sang "With One Look", and of course the show's other signature piece, "As if we never said goodbye" . . . she Is truly AMAZING!
Alan Campbell and Alice Ripley also gave remarkable performances. John Napier's sets and Trevor Nunn's direction worked beautifully together to translate a classic film into a classic piece of Broadway. Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber's music, is a bit repetitive and the reoccurring melodies do become tiring by the end of the show, but when you have such stellar performances by true Broadway "stars", you tend to overlook the repetitive nature of the music and focus on the great performances! I highly recommend this show! (10/31/96)


From Tiff (Tiffster3@aol.com), Northampton, PA:
I am a very big fan of the show and Betty Buckley. It is my favorite musical of all time. I have seen it 12 times now, 7 of those being with Betty. I really thought that the show would go downhill once Elaine Paige came in, but I soon found out I was very wrong. Even though the 2 ladies play the part totally different, Elaine is really terrific. She has one of the most incredible voices I have ever heard. She does a fantastic job as Norma. (10/30/96)


From fejames:
I saw the show again two weeks ago (the first time I saw it with Glenn Close) and I must say that I found it to be fairly boring with Elaine Paige. Glenn Close was not the greatest singer, but she was constantly on the edge and, while her characterization wasn't necessarily believable (Were we really supposed to believe that Joe had any feelings for this crazy woman?) she gave a great musical theatre performance. Now Elaine gave a much more believable performance acting wise, but I found her to be quite dull. I understood why Joe stayed with her; she was a lovable loon. And her singing was better than Glenn's, but she had an annoying habit of talking much of the score. At least, Glenn tried to sing everything. Glenn made the show exciting by being BIG, while Elaine just played the role and didn't give a "star" performance. After all the hype about her being the Grande Dame of the London Stage and her fabulous performance on the Chess concept album, I was very disappointed in her Sunset performance. (10/30/96)


From Barbara Ann Klein, New York, NY:
Elaine Paige has got to be the ultimate Norma Desmond. The role takes on a whole different dimension with such a tiny person playing such a big character. Her voice soars and she herself is perfect against Alan Campbell. We have waited too long to welcome Ms. Paige to Broadway. Had she been brought over to do Evita, Broadway would have been able to understand the lyrics with her distinct verbalization of each word. Way to go, Sunset! Long live diva Paige on Broadway. (10/30/96)


From Matthew Curtis:
I have been able to see every Norma, (show only 6 times) and I have to say no one is better--they (INCLUDING UNDERSTUDIES-s.d.carson, and Karen Mason) bring a special touch to this complicated person. Her sorrow, hopelessness and anger are all brought out with the lyrics. Weather it be Ms. Close's witchy interpretation, Ms. Buckley's shaken vibrato, or Ms Paige's clearness, one thing is for sure . . . Ms. Desmond is not to be played your fly by night character!!. She and the show are truly one Broadway should be proud of. (10/30/96)


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