At the Ford Centre for the Performing Arts
Vancouver, B.C. until March 9, 1997
It's exciting to have a brand new Broadway-style theatre here, the Ford Centre for the Performing Arts right at the heart of downtown Vancouver. This is another plus for the City of Vancouver.
Based on the Billy Wilder film which originally starred Gloria Swanson and William Holden, Sunset Boulevard is the story of a struggling writer, Joe Gillis, who accidentally drives into the property of a once popular silent movie star, Norma Desmond performed by screen and stage star Diahann Carroll. She falls in love with this young stud and offers to be his sugar mommy.
He refuses at first but after she attempts to commit suicide because of his refusal, he finally succumbs. Everything is nice and dandy until Joe falls in love with the young, struggling 22-year old beautiful Betty Schaefer (Anita Louise Combe), another struggling writer in Hollywood. Norma finds out about this and when Joe tries to leave her, she shoots him dead.
Diahann Carroll's portrayal of a middle-aged actress falling in love with a younger man wasn't very convincing. I found Ms. Carroll too energetic for her age, and also too dispassionate in her relationship with Joe Gillis, her young lover.
The kissing scenes were too cold for my taste, and whether Ms. Carroll was trying to be a bit prudish for the senior citizens watching this matinee performance, I really can't tell. Gloria Swanson's more sophisticated, more seductive, more laid back approach to the role was what I expected but didn't get from Ms. Carroll. She was kissing Joe, played by Brian Hill in this performance, as though she were pecking her younger brother: no passion, no intimacy whatsoever.
However, despite this, Diahann Carroll is Diahann Carroll and managed to get a standing ovation from the audience when she entered for her curtain call. I asked a few audience members after the show whether it was worth paying $92 for a ticket and most said: "Every penny of it!"
I am impressed that a black woman was offered this role that was originally intended for a Caucasian to play. But with Ms. Carroll's credentials, with her incredible stage and film career, it is not surprising for her to land any role she wants, especially this one. And she did justice to Norma Desmond.
I'm exceedingly happy that minorities are alive and kicking in Hollywood and in Broadway, which was unheard of in the Hollywood of the fifties where Sunset Boulevard takes place. Now we have Miss Saigon played by talented Filipinas in the lead role with Lea Salonga breaking through, followed by others like Cristina Paras. The Chinese and Japanese are alive in Hollywood not only because of Kung Fu and other martial arts talents but because of serious drama. The same goes with Afro-Americans who now dominate the American entertainment scene from Sports to Music and Film.
Finally, kudos to the sets and costumes! I was impressed by the juxtaposition of different media--from film to stage, as in the cars shown on the cyclorama screen continuing on with the actual cars on stage. And Fords at that! (Except for one Rolls Royce, I think.) The simultaneous staging of New Year's with Desmond's mansion on the upper stage and Artie Green's apartment on the lower stage was unique and innovative. The costumes of Norma Desmond were dazzling and I am still amazed how Ms. Carroll changed from one elaborate and complicated costume and hair-do to another in less than five minutes. And not only once but several times! The amazing magic of stage!
All in all, I would give this musical a nine out of ten.--EF