Now back on Broadway, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony-winning musical opened February 9 at Broadway’s Palace Theatre. The company hit the red carpet at Cipriani midtown to celebrate and joined Playbill to talk about the show, their characters, the 40-piece orchestra, and more at Cipriani in Midtown Manhattan.
The story of past-her-prime silent film star Norma Desmond captivates audiences in this stripped-down production directed by Lonny Price. Originally staged in 2016 at the London Coliseum for the English National Opera, the show stars three-time Tony winner Glenn Close in a reprisal of her role and three British actors—Michael Xavier, Siobhan Dillon, and Fred Johanson—in transfers from that production. Two-time Olivier-nominated actor Michael Xavier, who plays screenwriter and Desmond’s kept-man Joe Gillis, joined us on the carpet (13:00). “It’s the highlight of my career, this is the best moment of my life,” said Xavier of opening on Broadway. “I’m feeling this combination of happiness and gratitude.
As for his leading lady, Xavier describes her as fun and generous. “We just play every night,” he said. Still, Playbill had to ask if he ever feels star struck when he realizes he’s acting opposite Glenn Close. Watch the video to hear his answer.
Fred Johanson, who plays Max von Mayerling, stepped on camera (18:30) and spoke of how wonderful it feels to be telling an American story about Hollywood in the American theatre. He revealed that in preparation for the role, he did a lot of research about Erich von Stroheim—the actor who created the role in the original film, who was also a silent film director. “It’s difficult to start fresh. I think you take bits of what you liked from your old performance and then you add what you find together during the rehearsals of the new,” said Johanson. “The more contained Max is, he never loses it really, and the more contained I can be the stronger I am.”
Ensemble member Katie Ladner (22:20) making her Broadway debut confessed that the night was “literally every dream I’ve ever dreamed of.” “I don’t know if I’d be able to reinvent the character, but watching [Glenn] reinvent the character it is legitimately a master class,” she said. “And the best part about it is she knows how to have fun.”
Graham Rowat, another ensemble member, spoke to us alongside his wife, Tony nominee Kate Baldwin. “This staging and this orchestra are unbelievable,” gushed Baldwin, who will star as Irene Molloy in this spring’s Hello, Dolly! starring Bette Midler. “[This Sunset] is so fresh, it is so immediate, the way that they have stripped it down and stripped it away makes it so much more vital and energized.” (Speaking of music, Baldwin made an exciting announcement about the Hello, Dolly! cast album—fast forward to approx. 27:30).
Star Siobhan Dillon, Betty Schaeffer in this production of Sunset, stopped by (28:00) to talk about her journey with the show. “For fear of sounding cliché, I approached every scene from a normal point of view it’s very easy to play up the stereotype of she wears glasses and she’s very prim and proper and she’s very tenacious and I think it’s a bit more than that, she has to have a heart,” she said. Dillon revealed how she interprets Lloyd Webber’s music, particularly her second act duet with Xavier.
Catching a glimpse of Close with Lloyd Webber in the background, we then cozied up to the titan of the stage herself (53:00). “I’m thinking like Norma. She doesn’t want to be put in a spotlight, she’s just trying to get used to being on a soundstage again so when it happens to her it’s overwhelming and she’s trying to process it,” said Close.
“This is so different from the original,” she continued, “The original was amazing, but to me it’s pure music and pure story. What I love about Andrew is that he came back and he was re-orchestrating. Speaking to the orchestra members, they love playing it because it truly has become complex and a gorgeous piece of music. I love to hear the new things and his coming back was kind of like mine: You don’t take for granted that you’ve done it before, you just try to make it better.”