We move in for a close-up (beware of spoilers!)
by Stuart Munro
by Stuart Munro
Where, on screen, Gloria Swanson can tear apart the talking-film industry with just a few words and a fierce intensity in her eyes, on stage, Norma has to sing about it.
For some reason it had never occurred to me, before seeing it on the big screen, just how odd it is to have a silent film star singing on stage. Where, on screen, Gloria Swanson can tear apart the talking-film industry with just a few words and a fierce intensity in her eyes, on stage, Norma has to sing about it: “With one look I can break your heart/ With one look I play every part/ I can make your sad heart sing/ With one look you’ll know all you need to know.” There is an intense irony here – an actor describing in great detail how all she needs is one look to break your heart – but it would, of course, be next to impossible to have any actor convey that wealth of emotion and information with a single look and have it carry to 1,500 plus people in a modern mega-musical. And so Norma has to sing about it. Webber, Black and Hampton take a number of these key moments and transform them into moments of pathos. Sometimes they take inspiration from the dialogue in the film, such as in “The greatest star of all,” and sometimes they are brilliantly constructed from nearly silent parts of the film. Nowhere is this clearer than with Act II’s momentous “As if we never said goodbye.” Returning to the Paramount lot for the first time in years, Norma is swarmed by a crowd of admirers. In the film, the expression of pure joy on Ms. Swanson’s face is unmistakable, but once again, the musical demands that this point in time be expressed musically. Webber and his lyricists have created a near-perfect moment here:
The cardboard trees, the painted seas, the sound here
Yes, a world to rediscover, but I’m not in any hurry
And I need a moment . . .
Could I stop my hand from shaking?
Has there ever been a moment with so much to live for? . . .
We’ll have early morning madness, we’ll have magic in the making
Yes, everything’s as if we never said goodbye!”