'Sunset Boulevard' - My Review

Norma Desmond is ready for her close-up in Torrington

The Warner Theatre is the first community theatre theatre in Connecticut to undertake a production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard. Director Sharon A. Wilcox calls it an honor to so, and thanks the very talented cast that the production team pushed to work harder and longer on some of the most difficult material they have taken on to date. This hard work clearly shows in this production, and overall it is a good one. Many believe that Sunset Boulevard is not one of Webber's best works, and I was underwhelmed by this musical based on the Billy Wilder film released in 1950, that is often cited as one of Hollywood's greatest films. It is considered to be a sharp critique of the film industry and centers on the delusional aging silent film queen Norma Desmond planning a doomed comeback. I thought the story would pull me in, but I felt that parts of the show, especially the first act, dragged.. The music was soaring in parts, but highly repetitive and not the memorable numbers of the masterpiece of Jesus Christ Superstar.  There were a few legal battles involved in the production of the show and some feel that it won Tony Awards in a year in which there was no other competition. I purchased a ticket for the balcony on purpose because I wondered if a show with many scenes that include only two or three actors could fill the magnificent and huge Warner stage. Thanks to sets by the amazing ("no job too big") Rick Doyle and musical staging by Foster Evans Reese, this was not an issue at all. Having the fourteen-piece orchestra, under the direction of Aaron J. Bunel, sit on an elevated platform above the set allowed the actors to use the space above the pit. Lighting designed by Jameson Willey included the art deco elements on the sides of the house to perfection. Good costumes by Matt Dettmer and black and white videos by "archival videographer" Jeffrey B. Schlichter added to the ambiance. The hard-working cast is impressive. In the leading role of the former leading lady, Marilyn Olsen is wonderful as Norma Desmond. She carries off the wardrobe, the dramatic sinking into madness and challenging vocals. Ms. Olsen suffered a recent bout of bronchitis; at times the slight huskiness helped her portrayal of the diva, at others I am sure that she was frustrated by some vocal challenges. Newlywed Dan Porri makes not a single misstep in the leading role of Joe Gillis; almost never off the stage, his character serves as both narrator and integral character. I could listen to this gentleman sing anything. His character actually referenced the Titanic at one point and Mr. Porri was also wonderful as the ship designer in that show at the Warner. John Lino Ponzini shines in the important role of the butler Max Von Mayerling and Erin O' Launaigh sings flawlessly as Betty Schaefer. Joe Harding (the shorter half of the bumbling spies in Chitty Chitty Band Bang) is very good as Cecil B. DeMille. The rest of the actors play multiple roles and do a wonderful job of doing so. Highlights include Chuck Stango (who will be directing Landmark Community Theatre's Guys and Dolls in the spring)as Sheldrake and Mary J. Johnson and Alyssa Fontana as various female roles. I really enjoyed the ensemble scenes, with the cacophony of "Let's Have Lunch" probably my favorite. Ms. Wilcox, assisted by Val Vitalo, has helped this cast to be the best they can be. I recommend going to see the wonderful performers in  this seldom-produced show. It is at times funny, at times over the top, and I thought it was well done.

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