For the first time ever, a feature film's screenplay was read with a live performance of the entire film score, last night at the Hollywood Bowl. Under the baton of John Mauceri, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra performed Franz Waxman's score to the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard - in its entirety - as a slew of celebrity guests performed a reading of the script to the celebrated feature film.
The evening began with Mauceri describing how the idea of the concert came about, and how - with the help of notable stage director Peter Hunt and playwright David Rambo, they pulled the project together. 2006 marks the centennial for both composer Franz Waxman (1906 - 1967) and director Billy Wilder (1906 - 2002), so it was only fitting that Mauceri timed the concert to take place this summer.
Starring Betty Buckley as faded silent movie star Norma Desmond, Douglas Sills as screenwriter Joe Gillis and Len Cariou as Max von Mayerling, the reading was set up on the stage at the Bowl, with minimal use of props. To enhance the noir feeling of the evening, the video projection (showing close-ups of the actors and orchestra on stage) was displayed in black and white. Running over two-and-a-half hours (with intermission), the show was very enjoyable, with small cameo roles played by such notable actors as Charles Durning, James Cromwell, Hal Sparks, Holland Taylor, Bruce Davison, and more.
Interestingly, Buckley had performed the role of Norma Desmond on Broadway in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical adaptation of Sunset Boulevard, so she was very familiar with the character, which came across in her reading of the script. One of the problems with the Hollywood Bowl has always been the non-amplified acoustics, and in the case of Sunset Boulevard, the dichotomy between the spoken dialogue and music was made abundantly clear.
Without suitable amplification, the music took a rather subdued background to the dialogue, which was clearly projected throughout the venue. Granted the focus was intended to be on the actors, but there were plenty of times when the orchestra was supposed to be in the forefront, and unfortunately it didn't quite make it. There really isn't a good solution, given the nature of outdoor concerts, and it's a shame it was harder to hear the music.
When the reading came to a close, Mauceri, the orchestra, and the ensemble cast received a very long standing ovation. It's not an easy thing for an orchestra to play a complete film score in one sitting, but everyone did an excellent job, and it would be great to see more events of this nature created in the future.