The Players Theatre has “revived” “Sunset Boulevard” in many ways. The dark, wood-dominated, wormy interior of this old mansion has been wondrously resurrected by director/set designer Michael Newton-Brown in all its musty glory, and its grande dame, silent-movie star Norma Desmond, beautifully played by Jeanne Larranga, given CPR. The story reminded me of Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations.” I could almost see the cobwebs growing behind the wallpaper and the interior of Desmond’s brain.
This old gal is unusual in the theatrical lexicon, a tragic musical, bordering on light opera. The lyrics, written by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, who also wrote the book, are quite complicated and actually move the plot. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score is alternately moody, dramatic, lyrical or even sing-songy, foreshadowing his more famous “Phantom of the Opera.”
Based on the classic Billy Wilder noir film, the play is about Hollywood, its successes and failures, its glamour and its tawdriness, and the price some people pay to play there. Above all, “Sunset Boulevard” is a morality play, a brooding, classical reminder that it is ego that leads us astray and ultimately deprives us of the happiness that we might have had otherwise.
Larranga brings out the pathos and delusion within the main character, making her both sympathetic and horrific, as well as providing great singing. Logan O’Neill successfully handles the songs and finely delineates the character of Joe Gillis, an impatient screenwriter, under the spell of riches. Tim Fitzgerald inhabits the role of Max Von Mayerling, butler with a past, and sings great baritone. The entire cast is entertaining, including Sarah Cassidy as Betty Schaefer; Jay Bowman as Cecil B. DeMille; Ren Pearson as Artie Green; Randy Garmer as Sheldrake; and Bill Sarazan as Manfred. Other members of the large ensemble include Alex Mahadevan, Lilian Moore, Tamara Solum, Lauren Ward and Debbi White.
Costume designer Kaylene McCaw topped previous work with some fabulous costumes, most notably Desmond’s golden New Year’s Eve gown, which glittered blindingly, adding to the theme of faded glory. Michelle Teyke provided the choreography, and David M. Upton did the lighting design. Musical director and keyboardist Joyce Valentine led a fine orchestra consisting of Teri Booth, woodwinds; Erica Hendrickson-Boyd, strings; and John Januszewski, percussion.
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- Regarding the chronology of the shows of Andrew Lloyd Webber, "Phantom of the Opera" dates from 1986, and "Sunset Boulevard" from 1993, not the reverse, as implied in this otherwise good review.
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