Review: SUNSET BOULEVARD at Showtunes Theatre

Stunning performances in a so-so show.

By: Feb. 11, 2024
Review: SUNSET BOULEVARD at Showtunes Theatre
Review: SUNSET BOULEVARD at Showtunes Theatre
Billie Wildrick in Sunset Boulevard
from Showtunes Theatre.
Photo credit: Truman Buffett

Dear Readers, if you know me at all you know my disdain for most things Andrew Lloyd Webber.  With so much repetition and borrowing from other’s works, I just don’t see the appeal.  But many love him and so it should come as no surprise that Showtunes Theatre would choose to dust off one of his grander works, “Sunset Boulevard” for their latest concert.  And while the leads certainly got to show off their talents, I question the choice of this one and the presentation, beyond it being an ALW work.

Based on the 1950 film of the same name written by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder & D. M. Marshman Jr., with music by Webber and book and lyrics from Don Black & Christopher Hampton, we’re lead through this story by Joe Gillis (Matthew Kacergis), a struggling Hollywood screenwriter in the 1940’s, desperate for his big break, or even just a paycheck.  Through a chance encounter, he stumbles into the home of faded silent film diva Norma Desmond (Billie Wildrick).  She enlists him to help her write her epic return to the screen, but through delusion and desperation, a tragic love story emerges.

Let’s start with the show, it doesn’t always work especially in the group numbers.  The lyrics from Black and Hampton often are more just music under dialog and while that can work, it doesn’t when you don’t commit.  The big group numbers were like this but then the solos or duets were more like Broadway belters.  Speaking of those Broadway belters, this is another issue I have with ALW shows, he has two or three good songs and then fills in the rest with mediocrity and repeated refrains of the good ones.  And it all sounds like other works of his, in this case I got a lot of “Phantom”. 

OK, but what of this production?  Here’s where I question why this one and why stage it as they did.  This show has so much happening visually with copious underscoring, that to put up a concert version we get large moments of time with nothing happening on stage.  Instead, they projected a title card explaining that “Betty drives to the house” or “Joe escapes the financiers”.  And without much for them to do visually those moments tended to stop the show cold.  Now it could be that music director Nathan Young and director Kelly Kitchens were unable legally to cut down those moments, but that brings me back to why do this one for a concert?

Having said all that, the performances from the main leads were stellar.  The ensemble was their usual Showtunes great as well, but they just didn’t get the good stuff in this show.  But the leads, they got the best cuts.  Jeff Church as Norma’s devoted butler Max had a great voice, but I could have used some more variation from him in his character. 

Review: SUNSET BOULEVARD at Showtunes Theatre
Karin Terry and Matthew Kacergis in
Sunset Boulevard from Showtunes Theatre.
Photo credit: Truman Buffett

Karin Terry as Betty Schaefer, Joe’s writing partner, turned in a killer performance.  I’ve not seen them before, but I need to see more.  They absolutely lit up the stage with their presence and energy and their vocals were top notch.  Cannot wait to see what they give us next.

But this show mainly belongs to Joe and Norma.  Let’s start with Joe.  I don’t think I’ve heard Kacergis this good vocally.  He absolutely blew me away from his first note.  But beyond that, this is a demanding role in that Joe is our narrator, our threw line for the entire show and Kacergis carried this show beautifully.  Each time he entered I wanted to know more of what he was telling us. 

And then there was Wildrick as the iconic Norma Desmond.  Honestly, when I first heard the casting news, I was dubious.  Sure, she can handle the vocals with no problem but she’s too young.  But that’s using my 2024 brain and not putting myself into 1940’s Hollywood.  With that mindset she’s the perfect age.  And beyond that, she nailed every single moment.  The raw vulnerability of this delusional and broken woman shone through Wildrick’s heartbreaking performance. And vocally, the only word that fits is “outstanding”.  Of the three truly memorable songs in the show, Norma gets two huge ones, and she blew the roof off with each one. 

So, while this may not have been my favorite Showtunes, they still managed to impress.  And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give “Sunset Boulevard” from Showtunes Theatre a “still not a fan of ALW but incredible performances” YAY-.  Can’t wait to see what they have for us next.  It’s always amazing.

“Sunset Boulevard” from Showtunes Theatre performs at the Cornish Playhouse through February 11th.  For tickets or information, visit them online at www.showtunestheatre.org.




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