SUNSET BOULEVARD, Civic Opera House. John Napier’s opulent and mechanically ingenious set, Anthony Powell’s wonderfully flamboyant costumes, and an engaging performance by leading man Ron Bohmer can’t disguise the mediocre music and hackneyed libretto that wreck this stage version of Billy Wilder’s brilliant 1950 film. Following almost beat for beat the original screenplay–about a deluded silent-screen star who tries to make a comeback by hiring a gigolo as her screenwriter–Don Black and Christopher Hampton’s text lifts its only good lines straight from the movie. But the lean, sardonic words lose their edge in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s bloated music–which displays the composer’s taste for kitschy, faux-Rachmaninoff melodic hooks and his inability to develop them into interesting songs–while Black and Hampton’s original lyrics are riddled with clunky rhymes and banal images. Linda Balgord brings bug-eyed hamminess and a bothersome vocal wobble to the role of aging actress Norma Desmond, almost completely missing the textured humor, intelligence, and pathos of Gloria Swanson’s great screen performance.
Why anyone would spend $35 to $75 to see a story told with infinitely more wit and power in a movie you can rent on video for a couple of bucks is beyond me. Just as Norma Desmond’s silents were relics of an outmoded cinema, this extravagant dinosaur represents the dying gasp of an archaic brand of glitz-over-substance musical theater. –Albert Williams