Sunset Boulevard is a musical based on the movie of the same name, which chronicles the mental break-down of a has-been silent movie star (Norma Desmond) and her attempt to reintegrate with the Hollywood movie scene in 1949. The Denver Metro area hasn’t seen a professional production of Sunset Boulevard since it toured through the Temple Buell Theatre in 1996.
Arvada Center Does Lloyd Webber’s Uniquely Styled Musical Justice
HE SAID: Amongst musical theatre fans, the works of Andrew Lloyd Webber are not for everyone. While I respect the man and his legacy, I have to admit that I don’t considered myself a “fan” of his musical style, given it leans more towards opera when compared to most modern musicals. That said, this production of Sunset Blvd. at the Arvada Center is incredibly strong all the way around: voices, acting, and technical elements.
SHE SAID: I’m afraid I’m also not a huge fan of the style of the piece. I found the writing a bit flawed in that I actually thought several of the transitions from scene to song lacked psychological motivation, and they were therefore somewhat startling. But of course, I’m also able to put that aside and realize that once I let the writing be, I did enjoy this production quite a bit.
Leading Performers Shine to Tell a Rich, Dark Story
HE SAID: I agree with those transitions and while I don’t consider it a “flaw” it does prevent me from fully connecting with the piece. What really helped me connect with the piece were the strong performances across the board. Tony-nominee Ann Crumb breathes humanity into the illusioned diva Norma Desmond, who starts an non-reciprocated love affair with a young writer, Joe Gillis, powerfully played by Kevin Early.
SHE SAID: My favorite performance of the evening was Early as Gillis. His voice was rich and confident, and he achieved a tricky sort of likable cynicism that made him dynamic and interesting throughout. Crumb as Desmond was regal and commanded attention, an excellent portrayal of a former star with unused charisma. Days later, her renditions of “With One Look,” and “As If We Never Said Goodbye,” have strayed into my thoughts frequently. I was also impressed with the high level of the ensemble’s performance, which set a consistent and enjoyable cultural backdrop for the main story.
Talent and Technical Elements Make a Dazzling Night of Theatre
HE SAID: To me, the surprisingly impressive performances of the evening came from Stephen Day as Max and Jenny Gelwick as Betty Schaeffer. Max is Desmond’s butler, first director, first husband, and long time protector from the truth. Not only was Day’s voice impeccable, but the loving devotion he brought to the character was actually moving and tragic. Gelwick’s adorable yet fiery spirit was refreshing and brought a light to otherwise dark musical.
SHE SAID: The design elements were all executed brilliantly. I was consistently impressed with the large set (by Brian Mallgrave) representing Desmond’s dated mansion, which was just one of several locations represented. The costumes (by Clare Henkel) were well-tailored and consistently enhanced the telling of the story, providing an excellent distinction between Desmond’s lavish style and the working class young actors and writers.
Arvada Center Starts New Season with Strong Production
THEY SAID: With this seldom seen piece, helmed by Director Rod Lansberry, the Arvada Center has hit the ground running to start their new season. Lead by Tony Nominee Ann Crumb and a slew of seasoned veterans, the talent is never-ending in this cast and the technical elements are stunning to boot. This is a production that every musical fan (particular the Lloyd Webber buffs) should enjoy.
See the Wikipedia entry for Sunset Boulevard for a plot synopsis and history of productions.
Sunset Boulevard plays until October 10 at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities. For tickets and more information, click the banner below!