In the seven times I saw Les Mis it wasn’t until I saw Ricky Martin playing Marius Pontmercy that I understood and respected that character. Here’s why: In A Little Fall of Rain Eponine dies in Marius’ arms. Shortly after, he has to reconcile this death with the love of his life moving away. In my experience, no one in film, or on stage, ever pulled this off with delicacy and precision. Then, there was Martin.
Martin navigated this sensitive transition seamlessly without ever seeming one-dimensional. He was extraordinary and successfully awoke an emotion others failed to evoke in that role.
That was over 20 years ago and since that day it has reigned as the single most moving scene I had experienced on a live stage.
That is, until a week ago last Saturday.
By no means am I an expert on Broadway but I know what I like and I like to think I can hold my own in conversation. I have made more than 60 visits to nearly 40 different shows and of those I found Martin’s performance the most notable of the lot.
Again, that is, until a week ago last Saturday when I sat three rows from the foot of God and St. Peter in the worst seats I have ever had for a Broadway show. It was there I witnessed the single greatest performance of any show I have ever seen in my 48 years.
She was extraordinary. Just extraordinary. The stage presence, the command, the believability. She would have startled Billy Wilder and have made Gloria Swanson swoon with envy.
Glenn Close, now 70, revived her role as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard after opening the show in Los Angeles, then NYC 23 years ago. She had greater than 1,700 people in that theatre in the palm of her hand and there was no place else any of us would have rather been.
From the desperate loneliness of the opening scenes, when she buried her pet chimpanzee, to captivating the attention of a down on his luck Hollywood hack with her spellbinding “With One Look.” Drilling into the core of our soul her brilliance as an actress, we knew as the last note played she was the greatest star of all …. then had us all beside ourselves with the beautifully dismissive “now, go…”
That command of the stage continued through two acts and believe me when I tell you she owned it. She owned it all.
Then in Act II, Norma visited the Paramount lot. Admittedly I looked forward to this scene if for no other reason than I love the song and what it represents. Then, I was blown away, and it is the very reason I felt like writing a blog about it. This performance by Close, that I already thought terrific, launched into this unexpected enormity of greatness.
I knew what was to come, but I had no idea what was to come.
When the opening notes of As If We Never Said Goodbye began to play, everyone from the Saturday matinee crowd in the Palace Theatre felt the hairs on the back of their necks rise at once.
I don’t know why I’m frightened. I know my way around here.
The cardboard trees, the painted scenes, the sound here.
Yes, a world to rediscover, But I’m not in any hurry
And I need a moment …
This woman, who 20 years prior was abandoned by the very same 30 million people who gave her life meaning, was again where she was born to be.
Over the past 20 years she has experienced a loneliness that would break us all. Living the life of a reclusive and detached former star, Norma Desmond slowly slipped into madness.
I’ve spent so many mornings just trying to resist you
I’m trembling now, you can’t know how I’ve missed you,
Missed the fairy-tail adventures in this ever-spinning playground
We were young together
Then, if only for a few moments, she climbs out of the darkness of this profound sadness and feels a light of joy and euphoria she hasn’t felt in a generation.
We couldn’t be happier for her. We saw her pain. We felt her loneliness. We hurt for her. It didn’t matter that she could buy and sell half the town with the money she had, she was agonizingly alone and for this one moment she was alive.
I don’t want to be alone
That’s all in the past,
This world’s waited long enough,
I’ve come home at last!
She was home at last and man, did she deserved this.
When that last note played I looked to my left and saw my girl wipe her eyes. I looked to the right, and this stranger sitting beside me was doing the same. I felt no shame in doing so myself. Why deny myself?
This has never happened to me before. Not even 20+ years ago when Marius Pontmercy’s feeling of loss for his childhood friend then the love of his life within minutes tears the heart apart.
No. Not like this.
Then all at once, all us “wonderful people, out there in the dark” stopped for half a moment, breathed in, and did the only thing we could do.
Then we applauded some more, and applauded some more. And when it is customary for the applause to subside, and let the show continue, we didn’t.
It was a show ending applause that happened with 45 minutes to go.
She owned it. She owned it all and I half wonder if I will experience anything like it again.
When I got home and I thought about it, it was one of the very few times I really and truly wished I was a man of financial means. I wanted to turn around and buy tickets for that night’s performance, then the next day’s and then next week’s worth.
But, I am not complaining. If I never experience anything like that again, it will be alright, because I had it at least this once.
All it took was just one look.
Broadway Shows Seen: 42nd Street • A Bronx Tale • A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum • Animal Crackers • Beauty & the Beast (2) • Chicago (4) • Crazy for You • Damn Yankees • Grease • Guys and Dolls • Hedwig and the Angry Inch • How to Succeed in Business Without Really trying Jekyll & Hyde (3) • Jersey Boys • Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat • Kinky Boots • Les Miserables (7) • Mama Mia • Memphis • Million Dollar Quartet • Miss Saigon (3) • Moon Over Buffalo • Phantom of the Opera (4) • Pippin • Promises Promises • Ragtime • Rent (2) • Rob Becker’s Defending the Caveman • Showboat • Sunset Boulevard (4) • The Book of Mormon • The Front Page • The Producers • The Scarlet Pimpernel (3) • The Who’s Tommy • Titanic • Victor Victoria •