Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Dark Sunset

I'm pretty "spoiler" adverse. I don't read them. I try not to give them without warning. If I've decided already that I'm going to go see a movie, I don't even like to watch its trailer. Usually, this policy serves me well. Even when a form of entertainment I'm taking in doesn't hinge on surprise, I feel that going in with less knowledge and fewer expectations often improves my experience. But every once in a while, not knowing what I was really "buying" has steered me very wrong.

So it was when, on our New York vacation, we went to see Sunset Boulevard. Here's all I knew going in: it was an adaptation of the film (which I had seen), this was a limited run revival, and it starred Glenn Close in a role for which she'd previously won a Tony. I thought that was really all I needed to know. The movie seemed like an intriguing target for adaptation, and I'd be happy to see Glenn Close on Broadway -- for the second time, actually. As a teenager, I'd taken a school trip to New York, and seen Glenn Close in the original production of Death and the Maiden. That amazing experience only made me more interested to see this.

Unfortunately, this limited knowledge left out a vitally important detail: this version of Sunset Boulevard is a musical, composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Had I known that, I never would have gone in for this show. See, on that same high school trip, I also saw Cats (in its original run, albeit several years in). I found Cats to be an overblown, meandering, and cloying work -- one good song ("Memory") surrounded by crap, without even a decent plot to contain it. When I saw The Phantom of the Opera years later on one of its numerous national tours, I felt much the same -- two or three good songs trapped in a web of noisy, repetitive junk.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Sunset Boulevard was the low point of our trip. It slavishly followed the Andrew Lloyd Webber formula -- loads of aimless warbling around the scales, coalescing only once or twice in a decent number. (And in this case, the music sounded a lot like material from The Phantom of the Opera; this was derivative Andrew Lloyd Webber on top of everything else.)

I could tell my husband hated it even more than I did, which just made my mistake of grabbing the tickets even worse. At intermission, our minds boggled to overhear two women near us going on about how amazing they thought it all was. We should have followed the lead of a different couple near us, who vanished entirely at intermission, never returning for the second act. (Or perhaps they just sneaked down into better seats somewhere? It turns out that Broadway theaters can have "nosebleed" sections; we were up in a third story balcony, though I was very grateful not to have spent any more money than we did.)

I suppose you could say Glenn Close was amazing, in that she was the only tolerable thing about a complete waste of an evening at the theater. When Act Two turned more to the young lovers in the story and Close's Norma Desmond went absent, it was unbearable. Those 15 minutes felt like an hour. Still, the thunderous standing ovation she received after her two big solo numbers seemed overzealous.

The show is going to close by the end of the month here, and very few of my blog's readers would have the chance to see a Broadway show between now and then anyway. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to issue a warning: do not go see Sunset Boulevard. I would grade it a D only out of deference to Glenn Close, who spun a trifling amount of gold out of the straw here. But that's simply not reason enough to waste the time or the money.

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