BWW Reviews: Media Theatre's SUNSET BOULEVARD Makes So-So Script Shine
Sunset Boulevard is not the best musical that Andrew Lloyd Webber ever composed. Its primary storyline; the decline and fall of an aging silent film diva is oddly compelling. The score gets repetitious with the exception of a few torch songs and the lyrics may not always be up to snuff with the music. That having been said, Media Theatre's production is polished and compelling.
Sunset Boulevard is a musical with book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Based on Billy Wilder's Academy Award-winning 1950 film of the same title, the plot revolves around Norma Desmond, a faded star of the silent screen era, living in the past in her decaying mansion on the fabled Los Angeles street. When young screenwriter Joe Gillis accidentally crosses her path, she sees in him an opportunity to make her comeback to the big screen and he reluctantly sees an opportunity to live on easy street and pay off a few debts. An unlikely romance and tragedy tag along. "There's nothing wrong with being 20 unless you're 50."
Broadway's Ann Crumb quite single-handedly, takes the role of Norma Desmond, reclusive silent-film queen whom Gloria Swanson made so impressively memorable, and shapes it into her own startling image. As for her brassy vocals, she delivers them all with convincing passion and conviction. It's as if, like Norma Desmond, she knows that the rest of the world exists only as "all those wonderful people out there in the dark; an audience whose sole function is to attend her with adoration." Crumb attacks the stage with attention-grabbing authority. She wears her series of extraordinarily outdated Mille Hiibel's costumes as boldly and sultry as possible.
As Joe Gillis, Sean Thompson is the handsome young, down-on-his luck writer/ narrator of the production, providing the glue that holds the plot together. Joe's a likable fellow that you want to dislike but you almost feel badly as he's caught up in the middle of all the drama.
He gets a brief solo at the beginning of each act which is well acted, but, as written, his character is one that gets battered throughout the musical. There really is no place for him to strut his stuff (which he obviously has). It's all about Norma. Happily Joe gets to share his vocal prowess along with his girlfriend Betty (Elisa Matthews) in the song "Too Much in Love to Care." The two sound sensational singing together!
In addition to Norma Desmond, the other character with real staying power is Max, the butler, played brilliantly by Nicholas F. Saverine. Max protects the actress from invasion, and from reality. Saverine sings the most heartbreaking song in the show "Greatest Star of All," revealing his deep felt devotion to her.
Lighting designer Troy Martin O'Shea captures the subtle, smokey mood of the piece nicely. To complete the setting, Director, Jesse Cline makes frequent use of the movie screens flickering black and white silent clips here and there, sometimes showing old movie clips, sometimes visualizing a winding road through the windshield of a speeding automobile. Media's scenic designer Matthew Miller's clever use of tall shadowy mobile screens slide back and forth creating a subtle and effective transition from scene to scene without affecting the unfolding drama.
Cline's pointed direction allows sufficient time for all the melodrama that unfolds and gives Crumb the lion's share of attention which allows his Norma to move ahead full throttle with her sad twisted life. Noteworthy is the glorious live music lead by conductor/first keyboard musician Scott Anthony who transforms the audience back to 1949-50 in grand style.
Media Theatre is the recipient of a handful of generous local donors and sponsors. The Rosetree restaurant, a participating theater eatery offers an amazing theater menu to top off an enjoyable event.
Sunset Boulevard plays at the Media Theatre, State Street, Media Pa. through May 18. For tickets and more information visit www.mediatheatre.org or call 610.891.0100