If it were your job to choose Glenn Close, Meryl Streep or Barbra Streisand to star in your movie, you might be the luckiest person on earth.
But you would also be faced with an obscenely difficult decision. According to London’s Daily Telegraph, Andrew Lloyd Webber is considering each of these award-winning actresses for the role of Norma Desmond in the movie of his musical of the movie Sunset Blvd. (Trying to describe that makes me think of Julie Andrews in the movie Victor/Victoria: “I’m a woman, pretending to be a man, pretending to be a woman.”)
The role will be a challenge for any of the three. Norma Desmond is utterly and completely owned by the original star, Gloria Swanson.
The original movie is so iconic and heavily quoted, it can almost seem like a parody of itself. The musical remake — especially as conceived by Andrew Lloyd Webber — may not be great. But whoever is cast gets to deliver the line,”All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”
So let’s play casting director for a moment and consider each option:
Glenn Close should get it because she owns the stage version. She originated the role in Los Angeles, and won the Tony for her performance on Broadway. David Richards of The New York Times wrote, “the musical allows Glenn Close to give one of those legendary performances people will be talking about years from now.” Why not give it to her? Recreating your own performance is not always good. Look at The Producers: major stage hit; major film flop.
Meryl Streep should be cast because she’s Meryl Streep — arguably the best actress of her generation. If anyone can balance the melodrama and desperate dignity inherent in the character and rise above mediocre material, it’s Meryl Streep. And she can sing; just watch Postcards From the Edge and A Prairie Home Companion. Why not give it to her? She’s about to be associated with another movie-musical adaptation of a stage musical, Mamma Mia. It might be too much.
Well, she’s Barbra Streisand. Of course she should have a shot at the role. In addition to the obvious, she’s known for recording two of the show’s songs: “As If We Never Said Goodbye” and “With One Look.” And with her inclination towards self-importance and melodrama, she might be perfect. Why not give it to her? She might be a little too perfect. If she’s not directed by someone who can rein her in, she might tip the scales toward caricature.
As I contemplate each of these luminaries in the role, I keep returning to the same image: Sally Field in a turban in Soapdish explaining, “I don’t feel quite right in a turban. What I feel like is GLORIA F—ING SWANSON!”
Which has nothing to do with anything. But it’s stuck in my mind.
Back to the wrenching decision. For me, it has to be Meryl Streep. It may not be fair, but there it is. Who would you pick?