It was a truly desolate musical theater season on Broadway in 1994 when Andrew Lloyd-Webber pushed London’s Norma (Patti) aside in a sensational move to make room for Glenn Close’s thrilling potrayal of the silent film star, previously seen in the Los Angeles tryout. (Webber shafted Faye Dunaway as well, as she was slated to replace Close in the L.A. production, stating Dunaway couldn’t handle the vocal challenges.) The show opened on November 17, 2004 to mixed reviews, but raves across the board for Close. Plus, Sunset Boulevard turned out to be the only new musical produced on Broadway that year, for the exception of Smokey Joe’s Cafe. The 1995 Tony’s were even hosted at the Minskoff Theater, on the set of Sunset Boulevard, the awards hosted by Close herself. Her only competition in the Best Actress category was Rebecca Luker for Show Boat, two nominees in total, the same as the Best Musical category. Close should have just announced herself, and her show as the winner at the beginning to get it over with, as the formality of it just seemed futile.
After cleaning up with 7 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Score, Book, Actress, and Featured Actor (George Hearn); Close was succeeded by Betty Buckley, and West End star, Elaine Paige. The show closed in 1997 after 977 performances, due to the expense of the show’s high running costs, and a lack of divas who could handle the high vocal, and acting demands of Norma Desmond. Karen Mason served as Norma’s standby for the run of the show. There has yet to be a re-conceived ‘Sunset’ for the new century, but Webber has hinted towards it in the past. Originated by Gloria Swanson on screen in 1950, a film version of the musicalized Billy Wilder classic has been discussed for years, with names like Streep and Streisand bandied about for the title role. No formal plans for the film have ever been announced. Until then, we must celebrate all of the Normas who have come before…
Click below to watch scenes from the Broadway production of Sunset Boulvard:
Glenn Close, and cast in Sunset Boulevard (1994).
BBC Documentary on the making of ALW’s Sunset Boulevard, featuring the L.A. production (1993).
Faye Dunaway fights back on L.A. local news (1994)