note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
Besides its craggy, pristine coastline, Maine has another gem that people from here and beyond flock to - the Ogunquit Playhouse.
Currently in its 78th season of bringing Broadway and Hollywood stars, internationally celebrated directors, Broadway trappings, costumes, and sets to its large-scale, award-winning musical productions, the Playhouse recently grabbed the coveted rights to present Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1993 multi-Tony Award-winning musical, “Sunset Boulevard,” appearing at the picturesque coastal town’s 10 Main St. theater through August 14.
Executive Artistic Director Bradford Kenney was also fortunate to lure acclaimed British director Shaun Kerrison to Ogunquit again, to helm this production; longtime star Stefanie Powers, to portray forgotten 1920s silent movie star, Norma Desmond; and co-star Sal Mistretta, who appeared in the same role of Desmond’s faithful butler-chauffeur, Max Von Mayerling, on Broadway and in the original Los Angeles musical. The production also boasts an energetic, large supporting cast.
Todd Ivins of New York, who has his own collection of awards, provides fantastic set and projection design that seamlessly fuses from an onstage background movie screen, then spills onto the live stage with precise timing. Too, Music Director Ken Clifton and orchestra produce full, rich accompaniment in all numbers.
Most people know the story because of Billy Wilder’s 1950 classic noir film about a forgotten silent screen movie star who’s living in the past and a young writer who, by happenstance, meets and exploits her. Underneath, the plot reveals a scathing expose` of the Hollywood studio system that “owned” its stars, created their images and controlled their private lives, for its own profit.
Norma Desmond is a fictional character whom time, the studio and fans have forgotten for 20 years, but she can’t surrender her past glory. In her own mind, she is still THE star - the one and only Norma Desmond - who’s waiting for her next big crack at the spotlight and strolling down the red carpet.
However, instead of focusing on the movie studios’ “piranhas,” this version of “Sunset Boulevard” has a sympathetic Cecil B. DeMille (Mitch Greenberg), and others who humor her, fawning over Desmond when she visits a movie set, thus minimizing the sinister backroom, couch antics of pre-1950‘s producers and directors.
Stefanie Powers is the quintessential Desmond, which she portrays to the hilt - bedecked in designer Anthony Powell’s jeweled, glittering, flowing gowns and turbaned regalia; her every movement and step’s a flourish with exaggerated fanfare. Although her mental stability is crumbling, like her deteriorating mansion, time may have forgotten Desmond, but she hasn’t forgotten her time as a silver screen goddess. The star of former TV series “Hart to Hart” and adoring lover of movie star William Holden, (who played the role of young writer Joe Gillis opposite Gloria Swanson in the original Billy Wilder movie), Powers has surprising depth, dramatic power and a strong, trained voice. Her co-star, Todd Gearhart, as Desmond’s struggling writer-gigolo, Gillis, lends clout; while Sal Mistretta as Max is the understated, effective fulcrum in this sad balancing act.
Despite a few technical glitches, in which individual actors’ microphones failed, or a projection on the wall purported to show Desmond’s face during a home movie produced only shadows, this production is admirable. The packed 650-strong audience applauded spontaneously during several scenes, especially during Desmond’s triumphant lines when she mistakenly thinks the studio wants to see her, proclaiming, “Let them wait”. She’s equally commanding when she grovels, begging Gillis to not leave her; then she unleashes her full glory in the shocking ending.
BOX INFO: Two-act, multi-award-winning musical, book by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; starring Stefanie Powers, appearing now through August 14 at the Ogunquit Playhouse, 10 Main St., Ogunquit. Showtimes are Tuesday, Friday, 8 p.m.; Wednesday, Thursday, 2:30, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 8:30 p.m. but August 14 at 3:30 and 8:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Tickets range from $52 to $67. Call the Box Office at 207-646-5511 or visit www.ogunquitplayhouse.org.