"Sunset Boulevard" on Hollywood Boulevard
rousing success of last years Actor's Fund special event, an all-star reading
of "All About Eve," last night at
Widely considered to be one of the greatest films ever made, "Sunset Boulevard" weaves the tale of a struggling screenwriter, Joe Gillis, who is taken in by a faded silent film star, Norma Desmond. What first begins as a business arrangement to aide the "return" of Desmond to the screen, quickly descends into a tragedy of Greek proportions, as Norma begins to fall for the younger man, and slowly constricts her python like grip on Gillis with disastrous results for all involved.
Though "Sunset Boulevard" lost out on the Best Picture Oscar to "All About Eve," the film is still legendary for its incredible screenplay with some of the best movie one-liners in history, and deft direction by Billy Wilder, not to mention the intense secrecy the film was shot under given its not so kind look at how Hollywood treated its discarded silent film stars.
Pantages Theatre, built in 1930 in the heart of
Bringing the screenplay to life was a collection of some of today's hottest film, TV and theatre stars (and sometimes stars who have excelled in all three mediums). The program of actors read like a who's who in entertainment, complete with Academy Award, Tony and Emmy winners.
Central to any production of "Sunset Boulevard," whether the film, the musical or in this staged reading, is the casting of Norma Desmond, the silent film star forgotten by Hollywood, hoping for a comeback - opps, I mean 'return'. Lucky for the audience, Angelica Huston took on the role with gusto and aplomb. From her first off-stage utterance of "You there, why are you so late," her voice unmistakable, she had the audience in the palm of her hand, seemingly destined to play the role. She did not disappoint, and if anything, raised the bar when she glided on stage, as if floating, in a long sweeping black dress, covered, aptly, in shimmering diamonds. The rapturous applause which accompanied her entrance concurred that she was not Angelica Huston she WAS Norma Desmond. She commanded the stage every time she was on it, and was so powerful in her performance, you felt her presence even when she was off-stage. Careful not to play her as a classic camp figure, but also not falling into the trap of portraying Norma as crazy, Ms. Huston was magnificent in every way, and ended the evening, breaking your heart, with one of the most classic final lines in motion picture in history, "Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close up," which instantly has the crowd on its feet.
entrancing, in the role of Joe Gillis, is the stage and now screen star,
Patrick Wilson (look for him opening in the film, "The Alamo" this weekend, not
to mention as Raoul in the film adaptation of "The Phantom of the Opera" coming
to theatres in December). Given that Joe
narrates the story and sets the tone for the evening, there was a lot riding on
Fresh from his Academy Award nomination for "The House of Sand and Fog," Ben Kingsley made an amazing Max von Mayerling, the movie director who was once married to Norma, but now acts as her butler and protector. Creating a great accent to complement his character, Kingsley's 'Max' was both funny and scary, touching and sad, adding complex layers to a character one could easily make very one-dimensional. Like Huston, Ms. Kingsley truly owned the role, and for the two hours he was on stage, he made you forget there ever was an Erich von Stroheim, who played the character in the film.
And what would any good drama be without a little love triangle to complicate matters? For that, add in Lauren Ambrose, star of HBO's acclaimed drama, "Six Feet Under" as the screenwriter wannabe who steals Joe Gillis's heart. As 'Betty Schaefer, Ambrose had perhaps more pressure on her than any other actor, for Nancy Olsen Livingston the woman who played the part in the movie was in the audience watching her every move. But Ambrose, too, was brilliant, and certainly did Ms. Livingston proud. With her flowing red locks framing her alibaster face, Ambrose's 'Betty' was full of wit, sarcasm, eagerness and romance, who makes you feel her heart-breaking when the man show loves shows her the door, not wanting to taint her innocence.
Rounding out the cast in a variety of roles was Noah Wyle (Betty's boyfriend Artie Green), James Cromwell (as studio executive Sheldrake), Daisy Egan (Betty's roommate Connie, and last minute sub for Marissa Jaret Winokur), not to mention Charles Durning, Steve Guttenberg, Ed Begley, Jr., Wilmer Valderrama, Robert Morse, Ken Howard and Stefanie Powers.
all, this benefit reading provided an entertaining and enjoyable afternoon in
While the staged reading was an immense success from a performance perspective, more important is the fact that it raised $200,000 to benefit the Actor's Fund, the only national social service organization that assists members of the entertainment community in every sector of the industry. With a mission, "to advance, foster and benefit the welfare of all professionals in the entertainment community who are in need of help, ensuring that these efforts are accomplished with compassion, confidentiality and preservation of dignity for the individuals concerned," the Fund provides such services to over 12,000 individuals each year, and has been doing so for over 120 years.
For more information about the Actor's Fund, or to make your own donation, please call 323-933-9244 (ext. 54) or visit http://www.actorsfund.org.