'Sunset Boulevard' is ready for its close up, Mr. DeMille

Posted Wednesday, July 25, 2012 in Culture

'Sunset Boulevard' is ready for its close up, Mr. DeMille

Norma Desmond (Denise Whalen) and Joe Gillis (Gregg Goodbrod) in 'Sunset Boulevard'

by Gina Hamilton

Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Sunset Boulevard', like the 1950 film before it, portrays the intersection of Hollywood's glitter and glamour with its seamier underbelly. 

Unlike the film, however, the Don Black and Christopher Hampton book is somewhat kinder to the character of writer Joe Gillis (Gregg Goodbrod).  He is a struggling screenwriter, on the run from repo men, when he blows a tire in front of faded silent film actress Norma Desmond's (Denise Whalen) palatial estate on Sunset Boulevard.  He hides the car in the garage.  In the ensuing conversation with Norma and her loyal butler (and ex-director and ex-husband) Max von Mayerling (played by David Girolmo), Norma learns that Joe is a writer, and asks him to read and edit her script, with which she plans a return to the silver screen.

There isn't a chance of that; Norma is a legend only in her own mind, and her fans have long since moved on.  But she offers to pay, and Joe, having no work at the moment, agrees.  That sets up the beginning of a toxic and eventually lethal relationship, in which Joe and Max feed Norma's fantasies while she supports both of them.  When Joe tries to break away, Norma reels him back with suicide attempts, mental instability, and increasingly disturbing behavior. 

It's not often that the non-living elements of a production steal the show, but in this case, the sets (by designer Robert Kovach) and costumes (by Kurt Alger) evoke the glamour of tinsel town in the fifties.  The house on Sunset Boulevard -- the only set fully realized, in the time-honored tradition of studio backlots -- is fully rendered, while the studio, patio, and the apartment of Joe's friends are merely sketched and suggested. 

'Sunset Boulevard' is a powerful story of self-deception and enablement.  It is well acted and sung, is visually appealing, and the Webber music is powerful.  It could be the best show of this season.  Don't miss it. 

'Sunset Boulevard' is at MSMT through August 4.  For tickets, call 725-8769 or visit www.msmt.org.

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