Most helpful critical review
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A classic film makes a not-bad musical
on 10 September 2012
It's easy to see why Andrew Lloyd Webber was attracted to this story. It follows the same formula as Phantom of The Opera and Aspects of Love: a younger man loves a mega actress whilst an older man lurks in the shadows, pining for her. Of course the actress here is not young and pretty so perhaps the sexes are reversed. Anyway, the older man/woman represents a dangerous sexuality whilst the younger option represents an innocent love.
For those who don't know the classic Billy Wilder film noir on which this is based, it tells the tale of Joe Gillis (in this recording, Alan Campbell), a struggling Hollywood writer who accidentally stumbles into the creepy world of former silent screen siren Norma Desmond (in this recording, Glenn Close) and then stumbles into her bed. As she traps him in her crumbling world of delusions, he regrets his decision and starts longing for his newbee writing partner, wholesome Betty Schafer (in this recording, played by Judy Kuhn). But Joe's fate is sealed.
The musical doesn't flow as nicely as Webber's other musicals, although there are some big songs, the best of which is the title track, a cynical commentary on the hell that is Hollywood. Norma's songs tend to blend into one for me but they're not too bad: With One Look and As If We Never Said Goodbye are the main two. The Perfect Year is a duet between Joe and Norma, although obviously Norma sings the vast majority of it. Some people have complained that the score is too anachronistic. For a start, there are very few musicals that don't sound like the period they were written in. Secondly, a lot of it does sound period. Let's Have Lunch effectively evokes the days of classic Hollywood and Too Much In Love Too Care sounds a little Rodgers and Hammerstein-y.
As the numbers are a little bland, it's down to the singers to sell them. For me, all Patti LuPone did was sing. She can sing quite well (even if it is not the most pleasant voice) but she just sounds so unbothered. Glenn Close makes a real effort and it shows. The flaws in her voice add to Norma's fragility and delusion. My favourite out of the Normas I've listened to is Betty Buckley, who has a really nice pleasant voice and doesn't sound like a complete old bat.
Alan Campbell is great as Joe. There may be a lack of softness in his performance but there is a good deal of cynicism. Kevin Anderson's cynicism was present but Campbell shows us a man who is laughing grimly at his descent. Like William Holden did in the film, he gives a virile performace. The trouble with Anderson and John Barrowman is that they sound like rent boys throughout. The whole point of Joe's character is that his confident individuality is destroyed and he is forced to become a mad old woman's play thing. Michael Ball does a good job in the role as well but his accent is cringeworthy.
Judy Kuhn sounds a bit too worldy as Betty. Betty is meant to be a sweet innocent girl who does not understand that there can be relationships like Joe and Norma's. Kuhn sounds nice and sane but not naive.
All in all, the musical is worth listening to but it's the characters and story that make it rather than the music.