Sunday, 6 July 2014

Sunset Boulevard - The Musical

Andrew Lloyd Webber. Musical genius or talented has-been? 

How you feel about Lloyd Webber and his musicals probably depends on how long you’ve been a fan.

He came to my notice with Cats. I was lucky enough to have a music teacher who loved musicals and he managed to arrange school trips to London to see them. So, I got to see the original cat of Cats (and later Starlight Express).

Until this point my love of musicals principally came from my Mum’s collection of vinyl. The King and I, The Sound of Music, Camelot, Gigi, Carousel, Oklahoma, South Pacific, My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Can-Can to name a few.

But Cats was something new. Something modern. Something a bit on the weird side. I loved it. It was from that moment that my obsession with musical theatre truly began.

So, I have a lot to thank Mr. Lloyd Webber for. As such, I’ve been a true and dedicated fan ever since. But, I am not blinkered.  I don’t automatically think everything he does is a masterpiece (as seems to be the way with some fans).

When ALW gets something right it is perfection: The Phantom of the Opera, Sunset Boulevard, Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Tell Me On a Sunday, Starlight Express. All have great stories and are brimming with memorable, well written, songs.

But, when he balls it up he really does so in style, in my opinion. Shows such as Aspects of Love, The Woman in White, Stephen Ward the Musical, Jeeves, The Beautiful Game. These shows have maybe one or two good songs, but they’re otherwise quite boring.

Then there are a few that sit somewhere in between: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, 
Love Never Dies, The Likes of Us, Whistle Down the Wind. These are the shows with more good than bad, but still don’t quite hit the mark.

So, I now come to the reason for this post: Sunset Boulevard – The Canadian Cast Recording.
The Canadian cast included Diahann Carroll (Dominique Devereaux in Dynasty) starring in the lead role of Norma Desmond.

I’ve always been a huge fan of the musical. Thinking that, in many ways, it’s one of Lloyd Webber’s best written shows. It probably helps that I absolutely LOVE the film with Gloria Swanson.

I bought the World Premiere Recording (aka The Original London Cast) with the indomitable Patti LuPone and thought it was one of the best things I’d ever heard. Patti LuPone’s portrayal of Norma proving to be the template for others to aspire to.

Then came Glenn Close in the Broadway Cast. A totally different interpretation (as I would expect from Ms. Close) but it took some getting used to. The rawness of the delivery, her way of almost speak-singing and the new arrangements on some of the songs meant that I didn’t instantly love the new version.
Then, a few years later, I heard the Canadian cast and just didn’t like it at all. However, it was THAT version which rapidly became more of a collector’s item. By the time I heard it again (with older and much more cultured ears!) I really enjoyed it – but it was a whopping £60 to buy the CD. So, since then it’s been languishing on my wishlist. Until now.

Thanks to the advent of digital music (when will stupid people realise that the convenience of digital doesn’t make up for the inferior quality!?!) CD prices have fallen! Great for someone like me who want a physical item – not a ethereal one.

So, it is with great pleasure I can say I managed to pick up this recording for the grand sum of £6.99! Yay!
It’s probably been 10 or so years since I last heard it; and it’s also been a while since I’ve listened to the other versions too; so coming to this recording with unbiased ears meant I was able to enjoy every note for what it is: brilliance.

Diahann Carroll’s Norma is a joy. Breathy, melodramatic (as she should be), emotional, damaged and full of passion. Her vocals are stunning (despite the fact the songs had to be lowered to fit her vocal range) and her performance comes across beautiful. Also, Rex Smith as Joe is brilliant. His rendition of Joe’s seminal song Sunset Boulevard possibly one of the best interpretations I’ve heard.

The orchestrations and arrangements are pretty much the same as the Broadway version (and subsequent UK versions). The ONLY negative is that this Canadian recording is more of a highlights rather than the full show. All the main songs are here, but the linking music/dialogue sequences are absent. It’s a shame; but not a deal breaker.

If you’re a fan of the show you could do a lot worse than tracking down this recording.
Below, I’ve linked to the 3 English speaking versions, but also to the Dutch and German recordings. Hope you find one you like!

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