Sunday, November 24, 2019

Review of Porchlight Music Theatre's Sunset Boulevard

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Sunset Boulevard. The book was by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, based on the film by Billy Wilder, and the music was by Andrew Lloyd Webber. It was directed by Michael Weber, choreographed by Shanna Vanderwerker, and music directed by Aaron Benham. The story follows Joe (Billy Rude), who is a screenwriter in Hollywood in 1949. He is running away from people trying to repossess his car when he finds himself in an extravagant house owned by silent movie star Norma Desmond (Hollis Resnik). When he is hired to help finish her screenplay, he finds himself in a difficult situation because of her extreme loneliness and delusions. He discovers an elaborate plot to keep Norma in the dark about her own irrelevance, headed up by her butler Max (Larry Adams). He also ends up falling in love with his friend Artie's (Joe Giovannetti) fiancee, Betty (Michelle Lauto), while trying to write a script with her. It's about fame, ambition, and manipulation. I really love the story of this musical and the performances were great.

There were a lot of different versions of romantic relationships of various degrees of dysfunction portrayed in this show. The relationship between Joe and Norma is very dysfunctional and manipulative from both sides, even though the relationship begins because of Joe's manipulation of Norma's wealth and desperation to serve himself. The first time they actually kiss, Joe's motivations are not sincere, and it begins to unravel different layers of lies in Norma's life. Joe and Betty's relationship is also built on deception because they are both in relationships, one that they both know about (Artie and Betty) and one that Betty is unaware of (Joe and Norma). They both have similar interests, they work well together, and they listen to each other, so that could make a good relationship, but because they aren't dealing with their problems so they can be together, the consequences of their deceptions plunge them into the deep end. The relationship between Max and Norma is the most dysfunctional but also features the most genuine love. This relationship shows when you are as devoted to someone as much as Max is to Norma, undying love can lead you to do things that are not good either for your beloved or yourself.

I have never really been a huge fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber's music, but I thought the performers did a great job with what they were given. One of my favorite moments was the song "The Greatest Star of All," which was sung by Max about Norma. I was totally absorbed in the story of this song, and the performance seemed insanely effortless. He sounded so broken; it was really effective and I wanted to hear more. It was painful to hear him sing about the love he felt for her every day. I also liked "Too Much in Love to Care," the song where Betty and Joe confess their love for each other and learn how much they have in common. It was very sweet and well-performed. Their voices blended nicely together--it sounded like one voice. I like how Betty was not just the girl next door; she was actually smart and complicated, and she cared about the work she did. I think Michelle Lauto fully conveyed that in a way that was really intriguing to watch.

Even though the story was narrated by Joe Gillis, it seemed like the story was actually written by Norma Desmond, and the production elements reflected that. When you first walk into the theater, there are spotlights on posters (projections by Anthony Churchill) of Norma's films like Her Husband's Trademark and Bluebeard's 6th Wife. It is immediately obvious on whom the focus is. Also, Norma has a bunch of ballads that make up her inner monologue about how amazing she is. Everything in the production is excessive and elaborate, just like Norma's movies. The movie that Joe writes is based in sincerity and realism; it is a simple story of boy meets girl. But that is not Sunset Boulevard. Norma's movies feature extravagant characters that are dramatic and tragic. The costumes (by Bill Morey) showed very distinct characters and felt heightened, poised, and elegant. The set (by Jeffrey D. Kmiec) reflected a movie soundstage because it was able to be many different locations, but it also reflected the tone of the play because it had elaborate details and seemed larger than life.

People who would like this show are people who like extravagance, captivating performances, and drowning in deception. This is a really well-executed production with an amazing cast and beautiful production elements. I enjoyed it.

Photos: Michael Courier

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