Andrew Lloyd Webber's iconic musical Sunset Boulevard makes a welcome return to the West End in a brand new semi-staged production at the London Coliseum, the home of the English National Opera in spring 2016. Hollywood actress Glenn Close returns to her Tony-winning role of Norma Desmond, the faded silent screen star who plans her return, following her attachment to a young down on his luck writer, Joe Gillis. Featuring a string of Andrew Lloyd Webber hits such as “The Perfect Year”, “With One Look” and “As If We Never Said Goodbye”, this is a unique chance to catch Ms Close's West End début in one of the most iconic roles ever created in musical theatre.
At the official launch of the production, Close visiting the London Coliseum and engaged in conversation with Edward Seckerson, talking about returning to the role and what London audiences can expect twenty years later:
ES: Edward Seckerson
GC: Glenn Close
ES: It takes a great star to play a great star, you are no stranger to musicals – you have a Tony nomination for Barnum, you've starred in South Pacific for TV/Film. Was music in your background or was it a classic case of being an actor who sings?
GC: As far as background is concerned, my father loved Italian opera and they both loved Rodgers and Hammerstein, but my first memory of music was hearing Mary Martin singing “Cock-eyed Optimist”. There was always music in our house. I went to New York to begin my career and I started taking voice lessons from a wonderful Italian teacher who taught me arias, but I really learned to sing in Sunset Boulevard. From starting rehearsals way back in Los Angeles, I'd be driving down Sunset Boulevard to the big church where we rehearsed.
ES: How did the role come about, and what was your reaction when it was brought to you?
GC: It was actually a letter from Christopher [Hampton]. We worked together on Dangerous Liaisons, and he wrote me a letter asking would I consider it. It was daunting and exciting and something you never dream you'll have a chance to do.
ES: Did Andrew [Lloyd Webber] play some of the score, did you sing it for him?
GC: I had someone working with me in New York and was told that when I thought I was ready I'd be flown to London to audition for Andrew, and Christopher was there as well. So I flew over wearing my grandmother's ring for good luck and was driven to Eden Square and stood by the piano in his sitting room and sang the two big songs. I can't say that I had them in my voice at that moment but I remember Andrew saying “she has it there in her voice”. I knew it went well as I was invited to have dinner afterwards.
ES: The big song “With One Look” is incredibly 'rangey' – it crosses breaks in the voice, goes from head voice to chest voice. You worked very hard.
GC: I did. We had an amazing ensemble for that show in LA so I always felt I was the weakest singer and I knew I had a lot to learn, and I needed to work really hard. I didn't have this freaky fabulous voice that Elaine Paige or Betty Buckley had – I feel I'm more in line of a Mary Martin -somebody who thinks of those songs as monologues to get through them. I learned a lot about how to get through them, and also that there are certain areas of your vocal chords that are weak and you learn how to compensate as you don't want to miss the show. It was a huge education for me.
ES: The singing was always arrived at through the speech, that's what made it stand out and made you convince me you were a singer.
GC: That's one of the qualities of a great musical, that the song doesn't disrupt the flow, it actually enhances it and you can access the emotion.
ES: What was the big challenge with Norma as a character? Did you watch the film?
GC: I watched the film and I watched the best known silent films. I wanted to learn the tone and the style though the size because it was a different kind of acting. I did a lot of research on it. I think that when I was approached to do this I thought it was a gift to do a character and to be able to come back to the same character twenty years later. It is going to be an exploration for me because I've had another twenty years of life, twenty more years of my craft. She won't be exactly the same and I'm not too sure what she'll be like. She becomes a part of your fabric and your being. She haunted me.
ES: As a character, she's removed from this world and there is that looming insanity. What was the balancing act like finding your way to that?
GC: My favourite kind of character is someone who has this unshakable belief. I think that belief gives a certain kind of nobility even if it is delusional; the fact that someone believes something so completely is very compelling, and to have someone trying to reach that dream or maintain that dream. We've watched the unravelling. Another quality that I find compelling is a lack of self pity. She thinks of herself as this 'movie queen', but I don't think she has self pity because she's so sure of her re-entry into this world. Is that belief the edge of insanity? Possibly. We're not going to analyse what kind of insanity that might be.
ES: The humour was beautifully placed – edgy perverse humour. That's something that you found in the character, and you do have to cry occasionally at this sad tale.
GC: She could be considered a clown. A lot of clowns are heartbreaking. My grandfather would take us to the circus every year, and the clown that came out of the depression would be sweeping the spotlight – there was something so compelling about him. People were laughing but he never cracked a smile. The idea that comedy can come from a figure like that – I think that's really powerful. Laughter is always more seductive. You put that with insipid tragedy.
ES: The big challenge is maintaining the performance and the energy levels. How do you do that?
GC: Well for me it starts with working out. You have to have a strong muscle sinew to project that kind of energy on the stage, so I've been on the treadmill....You have to be in good shape and you have to take care of your voice and hopefully there's a good ENT guy to help with my post-nasal drip. It turns you into a hypochondriac.
ES: I can't believe this is your West End début...
GC: I know! I'm thrilled. All the actors talk about this theatre and say it has great acoustics and its a beautiful house.
ES: And you still have all the costumes?
GC: Yes – and I also have the monkey – wrapped in tape in storage. I'd be very happy to bring the monkey!