Sunset Boulevard | Porchlight Music Theatre, October 19th, 2019
3 out of 4 stars
(Originally published on Chicago Stage Standard)
Porchlight Music Theatre presents Sunset Boulevard features music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and is directed by Michael Weber. In her mansion on Sunset Boulevard, faded, silent-screen goddess, Norma Desmond (Hollis Resnik), lives in a fantasy world. When impoverished screenwriter Joe Gillis, (Billy Rude) on the run from debt collectors, stumbles into her reclusive domain he is persuaded to work on Norma’s “masterpiece,” a screenplay that she believes will put her back in front of cameras.
Based on the iconic Billy Wilder film, Sunset Boulevard, the musical, has a long and storied history of its own with productions and revivals around the world starring Patti LuPone, Glenn Close, Diahann Carroll, Petula Clark and others. The dark twists and turns of this story, as someone without knowledge going into it, was very entertaining. If you are familiar with the famous work, it could be a hit or miss for you. This melodrama seems chaotic at first, but found its footing in the second act that I find is partly due to its script structure. Like a twisted dream, it takes audiences through several segments that are questionable, but ultimately end in a surprising fashion.
Resnik’s performance is fantastic! Her profound ability to engulf the audience in her character really shook up the production. The portrayal of this old hollywood shut out is mesmerizing. Resnik is the recipient of 12 Joseph Jefferson Awards, two Sarah Siddons Awards, the Helen Hayes Award and was a 2012 recipient of the Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship at Ten Chimneys. Billy Rude stars as the young writer Joe Gillis and although he gives a strong performance there seemed a small lack in motivation. In subtle moments, his characters decisions and motivations didn’t quite connect with the audience, but perhaps this was the point all along or just the way the script reads. I will say Rude does play manic tremendously well though. Additionally, his rendition of the production’s titular song “Sunset Boulevard” was incredibly powerful and many of his songs highlight his vocal prowess. Having seen Rude in the National Tour of Million Dollar Quartet as “Jerry Lee Lewis” and The Civility of Albert Cashier (Stage 773), I stand by saying he is always a pleasure to watch and has a continued bright road ahead.
The main critique for this performance would be the initial unbalanced audio. For the first half the musical accompaniment and audio levels in the mics of actors were far too loud, so when they sung projecting outwards it peaked and made the lyrics inaudible. This was rectified in the second act, where like I said previously the story really took off. The ensemble was wonderful and the choreography by Shanna VanDerwerker worked well for the space. Visually this production was lovely!
The set for this production has the grandeur of the backlots and sound stages in Hollywood. The angled view immediately makes the stage much more dynamic complete with under-lit columns. Jeff Kmiec once again provides a compelling set that has the capability to change the space seamlessly. Movie posters are projected onto the wall along and further projection design by Anthony Churchill lynches the pin in this design. The scrims move up and down within the arch ways, which helps the idea of widening and shrinking the space according to the scene.
Kevin Barthel’s wig design and Bill Morey’s costume design are both to be commended for its clean cuts and colorful assortment. It was visually lovely. Nothing was loose or seemed haphazard. These designs were true to period with a little flare and complimented the overall aesthetic. A stand out performance by far was Larry Adams as Max Von Meyerling. Adams was absolutely stunning! This was Adams’s Porchlight Music Theatre MainStage debut and has worked with many of Chicago’s leading theater companies as well as Broadway credits including Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most famous work, The Phantom of the Opera.
Sunset Boulevard by Porchlightis definitely a recommended performance and much worth seeing the intrigue and incredible talent for yourself!
Sunset Boulevard plays through Sunday, December 8th, 2019 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn Street. Tickets are available at PorchlightMusicTheatre.org or by calling the Porchlight Music Theatre box office, 773.777.9884