Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Sunset Boulevard"

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note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Larry Stark


"Sunset Boulevard"

Book and Lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton
Based on the Billy Wilder film
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Directed by Susan H. Schulman
Musical Direction by Michael Rafter
Choreography by Kathleen Marshall

Scenic Design by Derek McClane
Lighting Design by Peter Kaczorowski
Sound Design by Tony Meola
Costume Design by Anthony Powell
Projection Design by Wendall K. Harrington
Production Stage Manager David Foster

Camera Operator/Cowboy/Cliff/Salesman/Guard/Soundman.....................Jeff Klein
Electrician/Indian/Prop Man/ Salesman................................................Erick Pinnick
Reporter/Secretary-Lisa/Astrologer..........................................Sarah Dacey Charles
Reporter/Jonesy/Sammy/Salesman.................................................Michael J. Duran
Reporter/Myron/Salesman/Assistant Director.............................John-Michael Flate
Reporter/Wardrobe Lady/Waitress/Priestess/Beautician...........Mary Kate McGrath
Photographer/Priestess/Heddy Lamar/Masseuse................................Amanda Paige
Photographer/Choreographer/Salesman/Victor Mature....................Randy Bobish
Photographer/Priestess/Masseuse......................................................Ali McLennan
Police Captain/1st Finance Man/Actor/Musician/Hog-Eye..........Michael Dantuono
Policeman/Sheldrake/Undertaker/Actor/Musician/Electrician...........Michael Farina
Policeman/2nd Finance Man/Soda Jerk/Manfred/Actor/Cameraman......Rick Qualls
Policeman/Morino/Actor/Salesman/Cinematographer..............Michael Ricciardone
Katherine/Make-up Lady/Doctor/Reporter..................................Kimla Y. Beasley
Joanna/Heather/Analyst/Reporter..........................................................Alice Lynn
Mary/Waitress/Priestess/Beautician/Photographer............Christine Michelle Riggs
Joe Gillis...........................................................................................Lewis Cleale
Artie Green.....................................................................................Michael Berry
Cecil B. DeMille...........................................................................George Merner
Betty Schaefer.......................................................................Sarah Uriarte Berry
Max von Mayerling....................................................................Allen Fitzpatrick
Norma Desmond..............................................................................Petula Clark

Traveling Orchestra
Conductor....................................................Lawrence Goldberg
Associate Conductor/Synthesizer................Janet Glazener Roma
Concertmaster.................................................Stephanie Lindsay
Percussion................................................................Gene Roma
Bass......................................................................Jason Lindsay
Synthesizer..........Kathleen Billie, Eugene Gwozdz, Faith Seetoo


If you have seen "Sunset Boulevard" before, all you really need to know about the touring production at The Wang Center is:
Petula Clark as Norma Desmond is excellent.
Lewis Cleale as her unwilling love-slave is a hunk, moves beautifully, and can do the opening monologue so honestly you hardly notice when he begins that awful music.
Sarah Uriarte Berry is lovely, and her love-scenes with Cleale hold their own with Clark's solid centerstage arias.
The ensemble is lively, Derek McLane's sets are broodingly lush, Anthony Powell's costumes (particularly a series of great neo-Erte gowns) are fine, and Tony Meola's sound actually makes people sound as though they are not miked.
So if you like this sort of thing, you'll like this sort of thing.
But if you haven't seen this musical, and if you like Andrew Lloyd Webber as little as I do, rent the movie and save your money. Billy Wilder is an artist whose work still surprises, but wordsmen Don Black and Christopher Hampton have added nothing new to the original. (Neither did Sir Andrew: The lady who saw it with me hummed a major song from the show as we left, and then began singing to it the lyrics from "Evita" because she prefers them.)

If the musical is dead in contemporary America then it's the style of Sir Andrew and his elephantine ilk that have killed it. Not that I'm an enemy of Big per se --- see my review of "Ragtime". But "Ragtime" was new and exciting and surprising every moment, while "Sunset Boulevard" is a predictable re-run. And I'm not against musical versions of classics --- consider an English backstage musical about outmoded hasbeen-styles in conflict with new ideas. "Sunset Boulevard"? No: "Trelawney" made delightfully out of "Trelawney of The Wells".

Early on at the Wang this time, the big crowd-scene cast spread themselves along the front edge of that big space (The Boston Ballet uses The Wang, remember) and I found myself wondering why everyone seemed to use such boring blocking on such a big stage --- blocking that seemed so deadly in "Titanic" -- and then I realized that in both shows all that interesting playing space behind that flat string of actors had been cluttered up with stage machinery. In this case it was that beautiful but (bleep)ing big staircase that, if Petula Clark wasn't such a powerhouse, would have been the only star of "Sunset Boulevard". As it was, director Susan H. Schulman nailed the lady to the very same down-center spot in front of that staircase for every one of her arias --- which aren't songs. Actually, the stage only comes alive when Sarah Berry and Lewis Cleale step onto what looks like a big, open sound-stage for their major love-scene, where they can move, and dance, and use the depth of that stage.

There is another open-stage scene, filled with stagehands and technicians and costumed performers ostensibly shooting a C.B.DeMille extravaganza at the back of the set, while the great Norma Desmond sits stage-left on a director's chair, and an old spotlight-operator isolates her with its beam, and gradually everyone onstage congregates around her. That scene, in my book, eloquently upstages that obligatory iceberg of a staircase, in spades.

But, with playing-space restricted, even the party-scenes get strung out widthwise, and Kathleen Marshall's choreography and Schulman's blocking have people merely mulling aimlessly about. Derek McLane's sets include four floor-to-ceiling columns, piles of props-boxes crammed with antiques from Duncan-Fyfe to Greco-Roman that define spaces for the various scenes, and the choreography of those columns is more interesting than anything given the people to perform.

But the mere fact that my mind had time to notice the movement of those columns means that nothing else very interesting was engaging it. Black & Hampton and Sir Andrew have concocted two and one half hours of sodden drama in which there isn't a plot-turn that isn't either predictable or actually known beforehand, a story in which there's no one worth caring about much. Well, the young lovers have a couple of heart-tugging lines --- and thank God they are Spoken, not singsong-sung, while their love-duet is actually a real song.

About that music, though, I thought of something else while waiting for the old lines from Billy Wilder's movie to come round. I've seen most of Sir Andrew's thingies (except "Cats" and "Phantom of The Opera"), and I wonder --- why is it that:

Every single note at.
The end of every line is.
Much lower than the note be.
for?
That continual repetition always puts me in mind of beginning actors who swallow the ends of all their lines instead of pointing-up. The fact that I can mirror his favorite rhythm-patterns so easily doesn't make any of his songs so memorable; it just makes them boring. When I remember that last year brought me "Ragtime" "A New Brain" "A Chorus Line" "When Pigs Fly" "Triumph of Love" "Side Show" and "She Loves Me" the fact that the first show I get to review in this new millennium is "Sunset Boulevard" makes me think:
There's nowhere to go but up, is there?

Love,
===Anon.


"Sunset Boulevard" (till 16 January)
THE WANG CENTER
270Tremont Street, BOSTON
1(800)447-7400

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