During the Entr'acte the sliding screens had projections of old Hollywood on them, plus a very interesting visual of a typewriter overlaid by a spotlight - two elements obviously associated with Joe and Norma.
Sunset Boulevard (title song)
Like the London production before it, this was delivered in a pair of swimming shorts, because obviously. (Strictly fangirls having a field day, of course.) I was already half-expecting them to do this so I've had a few Thoughts about it knocking around my brain for a while - essentially, the objectification of Joe is exactly what's also happening in canon. (Also it probably makes a lot of men in the audience really uncomfortable, and from a feminist standpoint I'm fine with that. :P)
The 1994 Broadway bootleg has spoiled me for the "There's Been A Call" scene forever more - this was something I will hopefully speak more about if I ever get around do doing a write-up of it, but basically it's the fluffiest fluff to ever fluff and it BROKE me the first time I saw it, as it essentially involves Norma being all over him - properly illustrating the situation they're in at that point, and how settled into routine they've become.
So yeah, nothing else will now live up to that in my mind, and this was no exception. But if they're going to carry on with the whole swimming trunks rendition of the song to indicate that dynamic, surely the next step is to re-introduce the ACTUAL dynamic in terms of Norma's physicality with him. One day we will find a director brave enough, and on that day... I will probably just spontaneously combust from feels.
I should probably also point out that the main reason there wasn't really any proper interaction between them was because Joe was getting dressed throughout the scene in readiness for the transition into the next one. Which makes sense from a technical point of view, but still felt a bit weird...
Journey to Paramount
The Isotta-Fraschini was a similar half-car set up to the Car Chase sequence earlier. Nothing much more to say about that. There was a nice Norma/Joe moment just before she met with De Mille. :)
As If We Never Said Goodbye
As expected, this was frelling awesome.
Firstly, I need to mention the really odd costume choice for De Mille - rather than the standard wire-rimmed glasses / bald head, they'd gone for a weird grey jacket and a toothbrush moustache and a haircut that made him look... a bit like Hitler. Which seems like a really bizarre choice considering the time period in which it's set and, indeed, the current political climate. I have no idea what the costumier was thinking.
The rendition of AIWNSG was everything I could have hoped for, and the setting for it was lovely - lots of extras in Biblical costumes and Hog-Eye shining the spotlight on Norma from on the stage (sometimes he's an off-stage voice and the spotlight comes from the rig). They went for a traditional outfit of black and white to hammer home the contrast (though Norma did have some colourful outfits within the House scenes).
An interesting touch was Betty bringing De Mille the script (for his next shot) at the end of the scene, just after Norma leaves with Joe. It makes sense in the context of the show (as she's a reader) but also raises several questions for later scenes, particularly the "Who's Norma?" bit when she sees the cigarette case, and the fact that it takes her so long to recognise Norma from her pictures in the house (or even her voice when she calls her!) So yeah, I can see why they did it, but I think they probably should have put more thought into it. It also seems really unlikely she would not recognise Joe walking away with Norma given that she's literally just had a conversation with him...
Oh, and I almost forgot - the altercation between Max and Sheldrake ended with Max literally shoving him away - a really interesting contrast given his care over Norma and potentially a threatening bit of foreshadowing over what could happen if Joe ever sets a foot wrong (though obviously, Norma deals with that herself when the time comes...)
The "It's not Madame they want, it's her car" bit was also nicely delivered. It's a tiny moment, but one of my favourites - I see it more and more as a test from Max to see if Joe is actually capable of maintaining the facade Max has been carefully building, or whether he'll just cave.
Girl Meets Boy
Nothing much to say about this, but the setting was cute - they were sitting on top of a sort of tower / balcony thing with an open front, legs swinging over the abyss. I'm not sure what it was supposed to represent (if anything) but it definitely wasn't supposed to be Betty's office because that made an appearance later.
Eternal Youth Is Worth A Little Suffering / Who's Betty Schaefer?
About as silly as expected - a bit of light relief before the cataclysmic angst of the finale kicks in. Joe was looking for his script for the entirety of the song, getting in the way of the masseuses and whatnot with them occasionally side-eyeing him or giving him overly forgiving smiles. Much like in "The Lady's Paying", there was a sense of them all being very polite about the situation whilst simultanously judging it.
There was a nice moment when he tried to retrieve it from Norma and she kind of... wove it out of his reach, in a perfectly choreographed little movement. Which, YES - a nice nod to her silent movie roots where everything is about gestures.
My favourite part was the bit where she informed him about buying a gun. His delivery of "Surely you don't want me to feel as if I'm a prisoner in this house?" was appropriately frustrated, but as soon as she mentioned the revolver and made that blasé comment about not killing herself because of the audience waiting for her, he immediately fell back to the same, gentle tone as New Year's Eve. What was interesting was that he was clearly very aware of what she was doing, and still allowed her to do it - not quite willing to run the risk that she might actually go through with it.
This theme of Joe's ongoing guilt over Norma's actions on New Year's Eve has always been a favourite of mine, and it's really nice to see when it actually gets played out on stage (rather than just in my headcanon). I like to think that Norma would be very aware of it, and that she would only use it against him as a last resort - in this case, to be absolutely certain he won't think about leaving. (Except of course, it backfires spectacularly.) It tied in really nicely with the "Completion of the Script" scene in Act One, where both of them were very aware of the game each was playing - only this time Joe honestly believed he would get away with it.
I'm sure I actually said this in a YIM conversation with commoncomitatus (during either the Radio 2 recording or the Betty Buckley flail, I can't remember which now), but basically - Joe is clever, but Norma is cleverer. So whenever he thinks he's one step ahead of her, she's already two steps ahead of him. This goes a long way to explaining why the end is such a chaotic mess of disastrous events, as everything starts to unravel for both of them.
And, as ever, it hammers home that it could all have been avoided by Joe JUST BEING HONEST WITH HER about the bloody script in the first place. She even gives him an opportunity there and then - "Who's phone number is this?" - and he ignores it! I basically want to shake him at that point.
Betty's Office at Paramount / Too Much In Love To Care
Okay, so my notes on this bit literally just say "nice chemistry", but I think that's because it was past midnight and my hand was hurting. So I should probably try and pad this out a little.
Joe and Betty did have good chemistry, though, so my notes do not lie. I keep forgetting there's been a slight (logical) lyrics-change in the first verse of the song, and I can't quite remember when they started doing it. Anyway, the backlot was indicated by a mostly empty stage (I think there was a water-tower projected onto the background / sliding set pieces) and the bottom section of the staircase. Betty's voice still didn't grow on me, alas, as I found it far too nasal (and Siobhan Dillon would have been a hard act to follow, TBF).
But yeah - inasmuch as Joe/Betty is not My Ship so I'm not really the best person to try and report back on the song, it was a lovely scene all in. It's difficult to avoid the fact that Joe is essentially using Betty as a quick escape from the ever-closing-in walls of Norma's mansion, but the preceding scenes did at least give a proper sense of them forming a friendship / dynamic that would lead itself to them falling in love (either with each other, or with the idea of each other, as discussed in a previous write-up). There's not much more I can say about this that I haven't said before, but honestly I don't think it helped that the portrayal of Betty was a bit uninspiring in places. I know there's not much time/scope for character development, but it is possible to bring more to the role and it would maybe have benefitted from a bit more directorial confidence...
New Ways to Dream (Reprise)
Nothing particularly notable here (no surprises!) but one line did change slightly, i.e. "Are you telling me you were married to her?" (instead of "Are you saying..."). I've always felt that line kind of jarred, because Max has literally just said it, so even though it was only a subtle change it made a lot more sense in the context of Joe attempting to process the information, in that it felt a bit more natural.
The Phone Call
This was interestingly staged, in that you could see Betty receiving the telephone call in the background (although you couldn't hear her responses, obviously).
Okay, so, bearing in mind how the London show staged the transition scene as Joe essentially having a breakdown (with the confused flashback), I did wonder what they were going to do here. In fact, what they did was an echo of the Car Chase sequence, with Betty driving to the house with a similar rushing backdrop behind her. What was really interesting was that the Hollywood street scenes were intercut with random words flashing on the screen - I can remember "love", "hysteria", "lust", "ego" (and "punctuate"?). I'll take that in lieu of an onstage breakdown. ;)
The Betty/Joe scene was AMAZING. I need to refer back to drunk!Artie at the New Year's Eve party now, because it was exceedingly obvious within a few moments that Joe had prepared for Betty's arrival by getting hammered - on champagne. Because OBVIOUSLY.
And now (of course) I have a headcanon that Joe is a maudlin drunk who can't handle his alcohol, in direct contrast to Artie, who is a happy dancing drunk (and also can't handle his alcohol). I now want fanart of these two sitting at a bar in their entirely separate drunken states - Artie raising a glass and singing at people and almost falling off his bar-stool, and Joe just staring into a whisky tumbler and sobbing.
(This also ties in nicely with another theory, which I keep intending to do an LJ post about, that Everyone Is Actually Insane, and a headcanon that Joe has low level reactive depression ["Well, I'm a writer..."] - but I won't go into all that here.)
So yes, anyway, my notes for this include the words "totes emosh" because essentially that's what happened. Just before Betty left (the "You'll always be welcome to swim in my pool" line), Joe literally shoved her towards the door. After her departure it was just... crying. For quite a while. Very definitely broken. (And an extreme example of his anger --> remorse cycle.)
Also, throughout the entire scene Norma was watching from the stairs, occasionally moving down to see what was happening and then retreating every time Joe got closer. I imagine it's a testament to her own broken state that she didn't attempt to offer any comfort, afterwards, despite the fact he was so obviously distressed, like she couldn't process anything beyond him sending Betty away.
He actually remained distraught right up to the point of dropping the truth on Norma, which actually... makes a lot of sense. It probably takes quite a lot of mental strength to make that decision when at a crisis point (not that it's necessarily a good decision, but when you can't process anything through the white noise of stress/anxiety/angst, making any kind of decision is difficult), so it's entirely understandable that he would just flip straight to determination once he'd gotten to that point.
The shooting was basically over and done with in about ten seconds (with Joe offstage), rather than the usually drawn-out process of watching him stumble, stagger and fall. After the third shot Max ran to Norma and tried to calm her down, which raises all sorts of questions over where he'd been for the rest of the scene and just how much he allowed to happen...
The Final Scene
God, this is always so harrowing. Ria Jones was basically epic - not that I expected anything less.
A couple of interesting bits, though. Just before going into "Salome" mode, there was a moment of Max sitting quietly next to Norma on the stairs as he tried to create the scene for her. In the lead up to "I can't go on with the scene, I'm too happy" she was laughing hysterically to the point it sounded almost like crying. And when she addressed Max as "Mr De Mille" some of the reporters / cameramen turned to look at Max with confused/pitying expressions, as hungry to see him handle the situation as to see Norma fall apart. Callous, but doubtless accurate.
The scene ended with an actual close-up - crazy eyes and smudged make-up - which was not dissimilar to the last UK tour. The difference this time was that the close-up was pre-recorded rather than live.
Something to mention here, for a lack of anywhere else to put it - certain aspects of the set (particularly the staircase) seemed to become more fragmented as the show progressed. The imagery there is obvious, so I won't go into detail, but it was worth mentioning anyway.
It always feels remiss not to mention the curtain call - it goes without saying that Ria Jones got a standing ovation, and I am always a sucker for the little "post-credits" Norma/Joe moments. :D
I think I may well have forgotten a lot of things from this write-up. Actually, I've just remembered a bit from "This Time Next Year" where Betty pronounced "vicuna" correctly ("vy-coo-niya" - I think there's supposed to be a tilde over the N) which was a nice little touch - and actually begs the question how she knows it's vicuna when Joe never mentions it at any point. Honestly, there is so much more to Betty Schaefer than what we're outwardly given...
But yes, my memory is terrible, which probably was not helped by my horrendous journey home from work and the subsequent mad rush to get back out of the house and to the theatre on time. If I remember anything else important, I'll do an addendum.
So, that was that.
According to the programme, the film version is pencilled in for next year - but honestly, I'll believe that when I see it, since that rumour has been churning the mill for about ten years now. :P In the meantime, I will continue to hold out hope for a massive-scale 25th anniversary production, and a cinematic release that's as beautifully shot/edited as the recent Miss Saigon production was. That would make my heart very happy indeed.
(In other, unrelated news, I have an interview for that job on Wednesday. Eek!)
Over and out.