Review: SUNSET BOULEVARD at Music Theatre of Connecticut

This production runs through October 2nd.

By: Sep. 25, 2022
Review: SUNSET BOULEVARD at Music Theatre of Connecticut

Director Kevin Connors (also the Artistic Director of MTC) has worked wonders adapting big Broadway shows to fit, literally and artistically, into his intimate theatre space, which has the audience on three sides of a postage stamp stage. His GYPSY was superb, as he understood that this is essentially a mother-daughter drama; and he created what would seem the impossible in such a space with a beautiful production of RAGTIME. He has done the same with others.

SUNSET BOULEVARD (based on Billy Wilder's noir film of 1950, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton) depends not only on remarkable voices and terrific acting, but also on a believable rendering of Norma Desmond's crumbling but still formidable mansion, which is a crucial character in the show and a metaphor for Norma herself. Numerous other locations in the musical stand in stark contrast with this address, and we must believe in them, too.

Unfortunately, Connors and his design team (Lindsay Fuori designed the set) aren't successful in creating this world in the small theatre, and unfortunately, too, Connors has made some uncharacteristic missteps in the casting and directing of Norma and Joe.

SUNSET BOULEVARD tells the story of Norma Desmond, a star of silent films who was discarded when the talkies took over, and Joe Gillis, a down at heels Hollywood script writer. Alone except for her fanatically loyal and protective servant, Max, Norma holds onto the illusion that she will soon return "to her people in the dark," and when Joe stumbles into her life, she sees her path: Joe will edit the script she has written for herself-the story of Salome-and she will present it to Cecil B. DeMille as the vehicle for her reappearance on the screen. However, we can see, from her first appearance onstage, that Norma's dream is fated to implode.

Choreographer Corinne C. Broadbent, with Connors, uses the central space well, conveying the chaos and hypocrisy of Hollywood through numbers, such as "Let's Have Lunch" that mirror those extremes. But Norma's home has no distinguishing features other than a lovely, tiled floor (which is difficult to see unless one is either in the front row or up in the back row), a shimmering pool (courtesy of lighting designer R.J. Romeo), and a stunning chaise longue. The room where Norma installs Joe to write for her is indistinguishable from the room where he collaborates with Betty on a script based on one of his short stories; if this is intentional, I didn't understand the intention.

As far as Connors' casting and directing of his actors, any director can tip our sympathies however he/she/they decide, but our sympathies must, in some way, be engaged. The problem here is that both Elizabeth Ward Land, as Norma, and Trevor Martin, as Joe, have been guided towards performances that are glittering, metallic, and bombastic, with few balancing notes of pathos.

Standouts in the cast are Sandra Marante, as Betty, and James Patterson, as Max. Both have voices that borrow just enough from opera to be stunning but not so much that the reality of their emotions gets lost. Marante's Betty is sweeter than the matter-of-fact Betty of the film, but she and Connors use this sweetness to draw us to her. And Patterson's Max deserves a musical of his own, as his story, and-more to the point-Patterson's playing of it, delivers a sucker-punch late in the show.

SUNSET BOULEVARD plays at MTC through Oct. 2. For tickets, visit the MTC website: Click Here.




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From This Author - Brooks Appelbaum

Brooks has been writing theater reviews since her undergraduate days, and her critical writings have appeared in The New Yorker, the New Haven Magazine, and elsewhere. She currently writes a... Brooks Appelbaum">(read more about this author)

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