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Faye Saves Her Voice for 'Sunset' : Musical: The announcement that Dunaway was offered the part of Norma angers some involved in the deal. Now the actress says she'll stay quiet until the details are worked out.

May 07, 1994|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Faye Dunaway was doing a lot of singing Friday, but not much talking.

Shortly after she was offered the role of Norma Desmond for the Los Angeles production of "Sunset Boulevard" on Thursday, her manager Bob Palmer talked to the Associated Press and Dunaway called Variety columnist Army Archerd.

Peter Brown, spokesman for producer-composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, expressed anger that the news had been released before contract negotiations were completed. Lloyd Webber refused to comment on the offer, Brown said, because there was nothing to say until the deal is done, which is expected by all parties involved. That won't be until Monday, at the earliest, according to Dunaway's agent. On Friday, Palmer released a statement from the actress.

"I love going back to the theater, this time with music--a whole new dimension. But, while the details are being worked out, I want to stay as quiet as possible, stay in training and prepare for the work ahead. When I start talking I sometimes go to the point of exhaustion, and I mustn't do that."

Assuming the deal is completed, Dunaway will take over the role after Glenn Close leaves on June 26, although the exact date has not been determined. Dunaway is due to shoot the feature film "Don Juan de Marco and the Centerfold" during the week preceding Close's departure, and, Palmer said, the film may require a few days of shooting in Mexico in July. An understudy would play Desmond after Close leaves when Dunaway is not available. Close is scheduled to do Desmond on Broadway beginning in November.

In the meantime, Dunaway is hard at work training her voice for the role. Vocal coach Bob Corff said he worked with Dunaway for an hour Friday morning and planned to begin training again at 6:30 p.m. in a session that would go on "until one of us falls over."

Rex Smith has been offered the co-starring role of Joe Gillis opposite Dunaway, after Alan Campbell--the current Joe--leaves with Close on June 26. Campbell also is slated for Broadway.

Smith, unlike Dunaway, has a track record as a singer. He recorded six albums for Columbia Records, won a Tony nomination for "The Pirates of Penzance" on Broadway and performed in a wide variety of other musicals on Broadway and national tours.

But Dunaway's only professional singing gig appears to have been the 1989 TV movie, "Cold Sassy Tree," in which she sat at a piano and sang ragtime.

Dunaway trained with two vocal coaches over two months as preparation for auditioning for the role of Norma. Her first audition, with producer/composer Lloyd Webber's musical supervisor David Caddick, was March 29. She sang for Lloyd Webber on Tuesday in a room at the Bel-Air Hotel; he called her Thursday to tell her she had the role. Among the other contenders who sang for Lloyd Webber last week were Rita Moreno and Diahann Carroll.

Dunaway's voice "has transformed in a short time," said Corff, who also trained Close, Campbell and the London cast's original Joe Gillis, Kevin Anderson, for the show. Dunaway has "a very rich, deep speaking voice" and began her lessons as an alto--but "now she can sing the soprano parts too. I've seen her voice expand faster than anyone I've ever worked with." Asked about her sense of pitch, Corff said it's "good now, and improving."

"She's the most amazing worker," Corff added, "with phenomenal focus and concentration. The harder we work, the stronger she gets."

Dunaway hasn't yet sung at the Shubert Theatre. Corff acknowledged the acoustical differences between a large theater and a studio or hotel room. But, with amplified sound systems, he added, "if you can sing, you can sing any place."

"I'd hate for people to think they're going to hear Kathleen Battle," said Palmer, Dunaway's manager and publicist. But he emphasized that Dunaway has "the dramatic quality and all the right instincts" as an actress. Dunaway is best known for her starring roles in the films "Bonnie and Clyde," "Chinatown" and "Mommie Dearest," and she recently starred in last fall's CBS-TV comedy series "It had to be You," which was canceled after just four episodes had aired. Probably her most prominent L.A. stage role was as Blanche DuBois in "A Streetcar Named Desire" at the Ahmanson Theatre in 1973.

At age 53, Dunaway will be slightly older than Norma's age in the script--50. She's also older than her predecessors in the role--Close, Patti LuPone and Betty Buckley in London.

Among the other actresses who were rumored to be in the running to replace Close, besides Moreno and Carroll, were Meryl Streep, Shirley MacLaine, Chita Rivera, Diana Ross and Raquel Welch. Most of them or their representatives denied they were angling for the role.

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