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'Sunset Blvd.' to Be Closed; Dunaway's Singing Faulted : Theater: Actress, reportedly 'flabbergasted' by ouster, was to replace Glenn Close. Refunds could total $4 million.

June 24, 1994|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The producers of "Sunset Boulevard," the mega-musical at the Shubert Theatre in Century City, abruptly announced Thursday that the show will close after Sunday's final appearance with Glenn Close in the lead role, leaving the theater dark and thousands of advance ticket-holders disappointed.

Faye Dunaway was scheduled to begin preview performances July 5. After weeks of promotion, the producers now say that Dunaway is not capable of taking over the starring role as the fading film star Norma Desmond.

Dunaway had been given the demanding singing role without any previous musical stage experience--to the surprise of many in the theater community--and it was her lack of singing ability that caused the cancellation, the producers said.

"It was concluded after several weeks of rehearsals and vocal preparation that the musical demands of the role were such that it was not possible for (Dunaway) to perform as scheduled," said a statement released Thursday by producer/composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Company.

The cancellation came despite advance ticket sales for the Los Angeles production "way in excess of $4 million," said Peter Brown, a spokesman for Lloyd Webber. All of those purchases will be refunded at the point of purchase.

Dunaway was "flabbergasted" at her dismissal when told about the cancellation, according to her manager, Bob Palmer, who said he informed her of it late Wednesday. Palmer said Dunaway sang parts of her role for Lloyd Webber on Monday evening in a rehearsal room at the Shubert, and "she was given great praise and encouragement. She felt very good about it." He added that a lingering disagreement over which key to use in parts of the role appeared to have been resolved at the Monday meeting, according to what Dunaway told Palmer.

Dunaway was shooting a movie, "Don Juan de Marco and the Centerfold," in Culver City on Thursday and could not be reached for comment. Palmer said Dunaway would probably hold a news conference soon to discuss the experience. He said he could not comment on any financial settlements or legal action that might follow Dunaway's dismissal.

Close is moving to the Broadway production of "Sunset Boulevard," which is scheduled to open in New York on Nov. 17.

A media opening for Dunaway's debut in the Los Angeles show, along with Rex Smith as her co-star, had been scheduled for July 27. Recently, the producers had taken the unprecedented step of lowering ticket prices by $5 for the July 5-26 preview performances.

The rehearsal schedule was complicated because of Dunaway's commitment to "Don Juan," which also features Marlon Brando. Dunaway had rehearsed with most of the "Sunset" cast last Friday, but had been working on the movie all this week and was not expected to return to her work on "Sunset" until Tuesday--only one week before her first preview appearance.

This is not the first time Lloyd Webber has changed his mind on casting for the role of Norma Desmond. Patti LuPone, who originated the role in London last July, was first signed to take that performance to Broadway this fall. After months of rumors--which Lloyd Webber continually denied--it was announced that Glenn Close would play the role on Broadway. In mid-May, the Really Useful Company and LuPone's attorney said they had reached a settlement regarding LuPone's contract.

Before LuPone left the London cast last March, the actress was offered the Los Angeles role, replacing Close. She did not turn it down officially, her agent said a few months ago, but "she has never replaced anybody in her career." LuPone could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Lloyd Webber spokesman Brown said plans for a national touring production will now be moved up and that Los Angeles will be included on the tour, although casting for it has not yet begun. All the Los Angeles cast members will be offered the chance to continue their roles on Broadway.

The $12-million production opened at the Shubert in December and has run for 232 performances.

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Times staff writers Barbara Isenberg, Lawrence Christon and Anne Bergman contributed to this report.

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