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Returning to the Boulevard, Two Decades Later

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The year was 1995. Vague shadows of palm trees played behind the emblematic street sign. Shades of the sunset glowed richly – ambers and salmons burnt through with mottled rust. Emblazoned on the curtain in the Minskoff Theatre was the title of one of the hottest tickets in town: SUNSET BLVD.

Glenn Close was nearing the end of her opening run as Norma Desmond, for which she won a Tony Award, and somehow I’d managed to score seats for my Mom and me. We were in the very last row, but even in a theater as expansive as the Minskoff, I knew Ms. Close would put on a show.

We were not disappointed. In fact, it remains one of the most transfixing and mesmerizing moments I’ve ever had the luck to witness on Broadway. Close was phenomenal – ferocious and fierce, tender and touching, all manic and magic and tragic at once. She brought a brittle humanity to a woman whose circumstances were unmatched by most of us, yet we understood her plight and her pain, and her insatiable need for love and adoration. Norma Desmond would never be easy to like – the truly great ones never are – they are too complex and polarizing, they demand too much and try too hard. For those very reasons they are the ones who are remembered.

For her part, Ms. Close brought a definitive reading to a character it seemed impossible for anyone other than the original Gloria Swanson herself to play. Two decades later, all talk is that she’s making the role just as powerful and impactful as that first time, with layers of depth and experience adding nuance and sparkle to her performance. Critics are raving, audiences are packing in (Hillary Clinton and Steven Spielberg are two of the latest to stop by), and everything’s as if we never said good-bye.

I think back to the first time my Mom and I saw the show, in the last row of the Minskoff Theatre. It was a matinee, and the light of day was shut out for a couple of hours of pure theatrical magic. As the overture began, and the dark tones of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s lush score rang out, we sat on the verge of something epic. As Ms. Close descended that serpentine staircase to frenzied applause, the magic that was in the making revealed itself in stunning form. We sat rapt for the entire show, wholly enchanted by the spectacle and the performance unfurling before us, and when it was over I realized that Norma would be haunting my life for some time thereafter. That’s the power of an actress like Ms. Close.

I’d have the fortune to see a number of other Normas inhabit the house on the boulevard (most notably, and enjoyably, Betty Buckley – who should definitely be courted to return to the role if at all possible), but I never forgot the first time I saw Glenn Close give her amazing bravura performance. In two weeks, and from the front row, I’ll get to return to that infamous address to witness the wonder of her doing it all over again.

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