Alan Campbell, Joe Gillis in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black's Sunset Boulevard, took a circuitous route to his Broadway debut. The son of a Florida tomato farmer sang in beach night spots, got his college degree, and journeyed to New York "to fulfill my dream to have the lead in a Broadway musical." Ten years later, frustrated, he headed west. There he was a band vocalist playing Vegas lounges and did regional theater before his break of a featured role in the hit sitcom "Three's A Crowd." He followed with five years on "Jake And The Fat Man."

"It was strange coming back," said Campbell, 38. "The first time around, I had anything but success. I auditioned a lot, became an actor for hire in just about every staged reading there was. I got a soap and worked Off, Off, Off Broadway. But this time the circumstances are not only different but also very ideal." The 6'2" blond actor has made quite an impact with audiences in Sunset's pivotal male role of the struggling screenwriter who meets faded silent-screen legend Norma Desmond -- and with the succession of leading ladies playing Norma. Glenn Close, with whom he opened in the Los Angeles American premiere, called him "my darling partner."

She paid tribute to his ability to endure pressure and deliver onstage, especially as Lloyd Webber and director Trevor Nunn reconceived the show after its shaky London opening. Betty Buckley and Elaine Paige have praised him and valued his friendship. "The jump from vocalist and TV performer to legit was a big one," Campbell said. "Joe was the kind of role that required more discipline than I possessed. I developed a new life as I prepared for it. But I wanted to change career directions."

Close told him she took the role of Norma for similar reasons, to, as she put it, "jump off the deep end." Campbell noted he had a lot more at stake "since I didn't have her career choices. I had to deliver. But I dance and sing and act. And where else can you do all three?"

He found Hollywood a tough town. "Before the good times, I had dry periods where I ripped through savings. Getting seen was difficult at first. Later, I found getting a little bit of exposure can be deadly. Since I never played a breakout character, I didn't have the clout to move into a TV lead. I knew enough people to get work, but I didn't want to play the best friend anymore. It's hard changing people's perceptions when they still think of you as the Beaver."

After Campbell auditioned for Beauty And The Beast, he decided to study dance and take up voice again. A month later he was among the hopefuls for a part inSunset. "I went in knowing I had nothing to lose," he explained. "I had a certain confidence knowing I was the long shot." Campbell was politely told thank you. However, he got three more callbacks. At the fourth audition, Lloyd Webber spoke to him. "I thought, 'Gee, it must be getting awfully close. The composer and producer are telling me about some of the reviews and problems they'd had.'" The next day he got the call. "The elationlasted only a few minutes. Then I realized the enormous job ahead. I knew the part was big, but I didn't know how big until the first day of rehearsal. And I'd be going toe to toe with Glenn Close, this big movie star. After an hour, all fear was put to rest. Everyone was wonderful. Glenn was funny, bawdy, and always warm and inclusive. And (director) Trevor (Nunn) loves actors."

Campbell said he has a lot in common with Joe Gillis. "Anybody my age who's spent any amount of time in Hollywood has had to fight to keep a few ideals and battle encroaching cynicism. I think of that, and my incredible luck, every time I sing the title song." 


Key Subjects: 
Alan Campbell, Sunset Boulevard
Ellis Nassour
Writer Bio: 
Ellis Nassour contributes entertainment features here and abroad. He is the author of "Rock Opera: the Creation of Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline," and an associate editor and a contributing writer (film, music, theater) to Oxford University Press' American National Biography (1999).