My introduction to Sunset Boulevard came like most of my introductions to Broadway Shows, through the soundtrack. I really knew nothing about the show, or the music, but when I was in high school, I found a used cd of the Original London Cast at a flea market. I didn't know the show, but I certainly knew who Patti LuPone was. I listed to the cd over and over and as much as I loved LuPone, I also loved Kevin Anderson's turn as Joe.
The making of Sunset Boulevard the musical had more drama than the story itself. I have a friend who's husband worked on Aspects of Love, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical which came to Broadway following his enormous success with The Phantom of the Opera. Although it the show had some great music, and it didn't last even a year.
'Webber didn’t exactly endear himself to the cast and crew of Aspects. Shortly after it opened, he faxed the female lead, his wife Sara Brightman, and told her he was divorcing her. The story made the papers (of course), and the press had a heyday with his insensitivity. Webber blamed the NYC critics for the show’s short run and swore he would never open another show in New York.'
For this reason, Sunset Boulevard opened first in London and Los Angeles. This was a good thing as the show had a lot of issues, some of which got worked out before the show eventually headed to Broadway. Even with the changes, the when the show ultimately did arrive on Broadway, it too, was greeted with mixed reviews.
Webber was so focused on wanting another hit, he decided LuPone was not a big enough star to attract attention he wanted for it's Broadway debut. I'm not sure if things were different in the 90's, but today, I can't think of a bigger Broadway star than Patti LuPone. Still, Weber let her go before the debut, hoping he might stag someone who create a wildfire of box office buzz.
After attempts to sign both Barbra Streisand and Julie Andrews, both of which failed, Webber eventually hired movie star Glenn Close who was playing Norma in the Los Angeles production. I've seen clips of Close in the role, and heard her on the Broadway soundtrack. No shade, she's great, but her voice holds little of the power LuPone's was able to deliver. Close saved with acting talent and personality, but it was a hit in the teeth to LuPone that took her years to get over.
The Los Angeles production had it's own issues after Faye Dunaway, hired to replace Close, was fired for having the vocal ability for the role of Norma. Dunaway ended up filing a lawsuit against the producers, the second Norma to do so. LuPone also sued after she was replaced. Like LuPone, Kevin Anderson never made the trip to Broadway either. Joe was placed by Actor Alan Campbell, who co-starred with Close in the Los Angeles production.
Although there were many actors who stepped in and out of the role of Joe, in addition to the actors I've featured below, John Barrowman co-starred with Betty Buckley in London, Rex Smith with Diahann Caroll in the Canadian production and Danny Mac took on the role in a London revival in 2016. Mac, along with Michael Xavier followed William Holden's lead by appearing in a bathing suit by the pool, opening the second act with the show's signature song 'Sunset Boulevard.'
The musical opened on Broadway at the Minskoff Theatre on 17 November 1994 with Close, Alan Campbell recreating their roles from the Los Angeles production and Alice Ripley joining the cast as Betty. After loving the Original London Cast soundtrack, I also ended up buying the Broadway cast album with Campbell as Joe making his Broadway debut.
Alan sounded great in the role, and I was surprised given I'd known him from his roles on television. I can't exactly say for sure what I'd seen of Campbell on TV, but his adorable face was very familiar. Although I never watched Jake And The Fatman, I had certainly heard of the show, and had seen Campbell in promotional shots with Joe Penny and William Conrad.
Three's A Crowd
The Broadway production opened with the highest advance in the history of Broadway ticket sales at that time and ran for 977 performances. The show was expensive though, and with it's high costs, not to mention the million bucks paid to LuPone as a settlement, Sunset Boulevard set a record for losing the most money for theatrical production in US history. Not exactly an award one strives to win...
British actor Michael Xavier stepped into the role of Joe, and out of his blue bathing suit for the 2017 Broadway revival. Xavier has an extensive resume on stage including roles in; The Pajama Game, Into The Woods, Oklahoma, Miss Saigon, Mamma Mia and The Phantom of the Opera. Television viewers might recognize Xavier from his roles on The Blacklist and Outlander.
The blue trunks...
One of the highlights of the Broadway revival was certainly seeing Xavier coming out of the pool at the beginning of Act II. Someone posted the entire show on Youtube which you can check out HERE: Or.. just enjoy Xavier singing in his bathing suit in the clip below.
Norma Desmond: I am big. It's the pictures that got small.
Kevin Anderson as Joe Gillis
Original London Production:
Adelphi Theatre: July 1993
Although the London production ran until 1997, the show closed in the summer of 1994 to revamp closer to the staging of the Los Angeles production. When it opened again in August, Patti LuPone and Kevin Anderson were gone, with Betty Buckely and John Barrowman as replacements. It's Kevin Anderson however, who's performance and voice were the first I heard after purchasing the London cast album.
Miles From Home (1988)
Sleeping With The Enemy (1991)
I first began crushing over actor Kevin Anderson after renting a VHS copy of Sleeping With The Enemy back in the 90's. Anderson was both engaging, and completely adorable as Julia Roberts boyfriend Ben. Anderson's had a fascinating career full interesting and unique films and roles.