Carroll starred as Norma Desmond in the Canadian production of Andrew Lloyd
Webber's "Sunset Boulevard". It premiered Sunday, October 15, 1995, at the
Ford Centre for the Performing Arts in Metro Toronto (previews began Thursday,
October 5 of that same year.) To Diahann it was yet another dream come true.
She loved "Sunset Boulevard" the movie, and when she saw the musical in L.A.
with Glenn Close as Norma, she knew she wanted to do the musical. It was a
demanding role physically. Both Glenn Close and Betty Buckley said to Diahann
that she had to stay in good shape to do the part - for example, Diahann had
to run up and down 900 stairs in every performance.
"I would cry after each performance," Diahann said in a 1996 interview. "The knee is not accustomed to doing all that in a 21/2-hour period. But slowly the body learned. And it relearns."
Portraying Norma Desmond was yet another "first" for Diahann Carroll - she was the first Afro American actress to play the lead in Sunset Boulevard. The Canadian production became a big success. After almost a year in Toronto, the musical moved to Vancouver. Below you will find articles, cast details and reviews.
This is the original press release, announcing Diahann Carroll's lead in Sunset Boulevard:
TORONTO, March 29 /CNW/ - Garth H. Drabinsky,
Chairman of Live Entertainment of Canada Inc., announced today that Tony Award-winning
actress and Oscar nominee DIAHANN CARROLL will star as ''Norma Desmond'' in
the Canadian production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's international hit musical,
''SUNSET BOULEVARD,'' officially premiering on Sunday, October 15, 1995, at
the Ford Centre for the Performing Arts in Metro Toronto. Previews will begin
on Thursday, October 5, 1995.
Mr. Drabinsky said that Diahann Carroll's vast and varied acting and singing talents made her the ideal actress to portray Norma Desmond, the faded silent movie star who longs for a return to the big screen. 'Norma Desmond is one of the most glamorous female characters ever created for the musical stage,'' stated Mr. Drabinsky. ''Her larger-than-life tragic character is usually found only in classic theatre. Norma is more than just a narcissistic has-been. She is a reclusive woman, raging against her mortality and her fear of aging, a universal emotion with which audiences everywhere can empathize.
''As immortalized by Gloria Swanson in director Billy Wilder's original motion picture, the part of Norma Desmond is a coveted role of classic proportions and demands an extraordinary emotional acting range. In Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical adaptation, the part also requires a powerful singing voice.
''After seeing so much superb talent at extensive auditions throughout North America and in Europe, I am thrilled to sign Diahann Carroll. She will give our audiences a bold and exciting performance.''
Carroll is a rare talent whose achievements have spanned every form of entertainment.
As one of the world's major performing talents, Ms. Carroll has successfully
made the challenging transitions from nightclubs to the Broadway stage, to
motion pictures and television, becoming a Las Vegas headliner, a Tony Award
winner, an Oscar nominee in the category of ''Best Actress, '' and a Grammy
and Emmy nominee. A consummate entertainer, Ms. Carroll's gifts are so varied
and dynamic that she continually astounds fans and critics alike with her
versatility and magnetic charisma.
Ms. Carroll made her Broadway stage debut in 1954, starring in the Harold Arlen-Truman Capote production of ''House of Flowers.'' In 1962, Richard Rodgers created the Broadway production of ''No Strings'' as a starring vehicle for Ms. Carroll, for which she won a Tony as Best Actress in a Musical. In 1968, Diahann Carroll became the first black actress in television history to star in her own NBC series, ''Julia.'' The show hit the top of the Neilsen ratings and received an Emmy nomination during its first year on the air.
In 1984, Ms. Carroll created the role of Dominique Devereaux in the award- winning night-time phenomenon ''Dynasty,'' which is still in syndication worldwide. In 1989 she was nominated for an Emmy in the award-winning NBC TV series ''A Different World,'' as outstanding guest actress in a Comedy Series. She can currently be seen in the television mini-series, ''Lonesome Dove, '' in which she plays the recurring character, Ida Grayson.
Her film work includes her 1974 nomination for an Academy Award as "Best Actress;" for her dramatic role in the film "Claudine," co-starring with James Earl Jones. Her other film credits include "The Five Heartbeats," "Paris Blues" co-starring with Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier, "Carmen Jones," "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," "Hurry Sundown," "The Split," and "Porgy and Bess."
SUNSET BOULEVARD will be staged by director Trevor Nunn and the musical's entire original creative team at the Ford Centre for the Performing Arts in North York. Livent is co-producing SUNSET BOULEVARD in Canada with The Really Useful Theatre Company.
Carroll shows us a 'Sunset Boulevard'
that's not just black or white
By Kenneth Jones / Special to The Detroit News
the end of the first act of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard in suburban
Toronto, Diahann Carroll, as the warped silent movie star Norma Desmond, stares
off into the middle distance and delicately sings, "We gave the world new
ways to dream." The line is repeated throughout the show, suggesting Norma's
submersion in the past and her refusal to accept that other dreamers eclipsed
her world long ago.
Carroll, luminously good-looking and composed at 60, is hardly an addled Desmond, the character made famous by Gloria Swanson in the 1950 Billy Wilder film. But the haunted lyric about new ways to dream feels exactly right for Carroll, whose work over the years has offered audiences fresh angles from which to view the world. Does she ever look in the mirror and see the face that inspired new ways to dream?
"I'm most secure with that thought when a young person comes up to me and says they pursued something because of something I did -- that I had an influence on their thinking," Carroll says. "That's a very nice feeling."
Carroll, interviewed during a recent visit to Detroit, says theatergoers view her work in Sunset Boulevard not as a traditionally white role being played by a black actress, but a performer embodying something larger. Norma, says Carroll, is a symbol of loss and rejection, and those ideas dwarf any star actress who plays her. But she hates the idea of a colorblind world in which nobody sees the vibrance and variety of life. When a colleague once said he didn't think of her as black, she rebuffed him. Ignoring her color, she says, "is about dismissing everything that I am. I'm walking around. What do you mean you don't see me as black? What have you done to me? Where is my skin? Where is my hair? My face? You can't do that."
On her long list of career projects are several that scored firsts for an African-American actress:
* No Strings, the 1962 Richard Rodgers musical, was the first Broadway musical to cast a black actress opposite a white leading man (Richard Kiley) in a romantic plot. The show played Detroit's Fisher Theatre before Broadway and produced, memorably, "The Sweetest Sounds," sung by Carroll and Kiley.
* Julia, on NBC from 1968-71, was the first TV sitcom to star a black actress as a character not limited to a servant role. Carroll, then largely known as a nightclub entertainer, dressed down to play Julia, an independent, war-widowed nurse with a son. The show was so popular it spawned a line of Julia dolls.
* Dynasty, the excessive 1980s nighttime soap opera, was strictly a two-woman glamor fest until Carroll squeezed her way in between Joan Collins and Linda Evans, to play the manipulative Dominique Devereaux, in her words "the first black b---- on television."
As for her comeback show -- or "return," as Norma would say -- Michiganians
the border in droves to see Carroll in Sunset. Since its Oct. 5 opening at
the Ford Centre for the Performing Arts, about 17,000 tickets have been sold
to Michigan theatergoers, generating more than $1.2 million (U.S.), according
to Sunset publicist Grant Ramsay. No Strings, her last major stage musical,
was 34 years ago. What took her so long to return?
"My God, really? Was it that long ago?" she asks, looking cool behind sunglasses, svelte in a crisp, navy blazer and skirt. Over the years, there were stage offers, she says, "but not what I wanted."
She admits she recently turned down the role of Margo Channing in the Broadway revival of Applause because of her loyalty to Sunset, which she'll take to Vancouver after its Aug. 18 close in North York, just north of Toronto.
Until then, Carroll will keep ascending and descending some 700 steps every night on Sunset's trademark glittery staircase, which includes unseen backstage steps. That sort of workout, eight shows a week, may be the secret to her trim figure, and the reason she was in such pain early in the show's run.
"I would cry after each performance," Carroll says as she bites zestfully into a cheeseburger and picks at a plate of french fries, smothered in ketchup. "The knee is not accustomed to doing all that in a 21/2-hour period. But slowly the body learned. And it relearns."
She still applies ice to her knees after every performance. Sometimes, to escape from the mentally ill character she plays nightly, she goes out for a quiet dinner with the cast and unwinds with a glass of red wine.
Husband Vic Damone, the only singer whose voice gets better with age, she says, has visited Toronto on and off for the last eight months. They are still married, despite separations and tabloid reports in the past.
"It's very difficult to let Norma go at night," Carroll says of the mad silent movie star who did not transfer to talkies. But, she adds, she understands how Norma has been overwhelmed by revolutionary, insurmountable changes in the entertainment business.
"It's kind of like when Motown came around and I wouldn't accept it," Carroll explains. "I said it will always be secondary to my kind of music -- Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hart -- and in fact it became the most important, successful kind of music in the world.
"As I watched this thing loom larger and larger in the sky, I thought, 'What kind of adjustments do I make? I don't know how to produce this.' "
Everyone needs new ways to dream.
Kenneth Jones is a Detroit-area theater writer and critic.
© 1996, The Detroit News
October 16, 1995
sailed into the sunset last night. And an opulent sunset it was, as Livent
Inc. and The Really Useful Theatre Company teamed up to put Andrew Lloyd Webber's
musical theatre offering on the stage of the North York Ford Centre.
Adapted from Billy Wilder's classic 1950 movie of the same name, Sunset Boulevard puts the 'pop' in eye-popping. Fairly awash in glitter and jewels it trails its $12-M pricetag with pride as it struts through the tragedy of Norma Desmond, Queen of the Silent Screen.
Abandoned by her fans and her industry as her world rushed to embrace talking pictures, she has moldered for years in her lavish Hollywood estate.When a down-on-his-luck screenwriter pulls into her life trailing hope in his wake, she is reborn. As Norma, Diahann Carroll breaks new and exciting ground, waltzing through a host of Webber's trademark anthems with elegance. But finally, she conquers with sheer simplicity and honesty in a number titled As If We Never Said Goodbye. Teamed with Rex Smith as screenwriter Joe Gillis and Walter Charles as faithful retainer Max, Carroll headlines an impressive cast.
Somewhere in Wilder's old movie there's a stage play equally impressive - but this isn't it. In developing book and lyrics, Don Black and Christopher Hampton have obviously been cowed by a classic, unwilling to disassemble the iconography of Wilder's movie to find the play within. Instead they simply put the movie onstage, oblivious to the strength and intimacy of their chosen medium. Encumbered with what is essentially still a screenplay and leaning heavily on its visual references, director Trevor Nunn falls back on the lavish
staging of his Cats and his Aspects Of Love. Instead of creating something vital, a very talented technical crew has been limited to simple re-creation. All of the technical excesses of modern musical theatre are called into play to try and make a 50-year-old movie believable. What isn't recreated is over-created. For Norma's mansion, designer John Napier flies a rococo grotesquerie swathed in enough gilt to reupholster the Renaissance. It's breathtaking but ultimately it only serves to dwarf peformers and performances. This is Sunset starring Diahann Carroll, not Sunset starring the staircase.
Still, for those content to simply see the movie set to music the show will prove a triumph. But for anyone who truly believed Gloria Swanson's Norma when she said "I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille," there is an aura of disappointment. Despite the best efforts of many - not to mention those $12M - she is still waiting for that closeup.
SUN RATING: 4 OUT OF 5
Diahann Carroll................Norma Desmond
Rex Smith...................................Joe Gillis
Walter Charles..............Max von Mayerling
Anita Louise Combe.............Betty Schaefer
John Braden......................Cecil B. DeMille
Christopher Shyer....................Artie Green
Music by: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Book & Lyrics: Don Black, Christopher Hampton
Based on the Billy Wilder film.
Musical staging: Bob Avian
Directed by: Trevor Nunn
More information about the songs in the Discography section.