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March 19, 2012

SUNSET BLVD AND ALL THOSE WONDERFUL PEOPLE IN THE DARK


courtesy photo - New London

SUNSET BOULEVARD AND ALL THOSE WONDERFUL PEOPLE OUT THERE IN THE DARK






SUNSET BOULEVARD is a musical with book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton – and the glorious sumptuous music is by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The musical of course, is based on the 1950 BILLY WILDER film (Same Title).

Norma Desmond is a faded star of the silent screen era that lives in the past, in a decaying mansion on fabled Sunset Boulevard. A young good-looking young screenwriter Joe Gillis accidentally ends up on her property as he was trying to escape a bill collector. Norma falls for him – no make that -- she nails him to the wall so that he can’t escape. She finds out that he is a writer – and she has written a story that she hopes that a famous director, will ask her to make a comeback to the big screen. But, alas – what they really want at the Studio was her vintage car.

Gloria Swanson was a huge star in her own right. So, this play was perfect for her to be Norma Desmond. Although there were many others that were considered for the Role – Swanson won out. Yes, she will be the dethroned Queen.

The play starts out with the lifeless body of the struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis’s floating dead body in Norma Desmond’s pool. Joe narrates; in flashback style a bizarre tale.  And the story of Norma rolls out like a steamroller.

As fascinating as Norma is (a predatory silent movie queen)she keeps a grip on Gillis – just as she does to the audience. Swanson herself complained, when she was asked to submit to an audition. Her reaction was later echoed in the screenplay and the Stage Musical. This was the words that appeared in both venues: “without me there wouldn’t be any Paramount!” Billy Wilder recalled: “There was a lot of Norma in Swanson, you know.”

There is some humor in the musical. Gillis meets Betty, a young writer. She says to him – “I’d always heard that you had some talent.” Gillis replies – “That was last year. This year I’m trying to make a living.” He was living off of Norma at the time. And as one of the songs in the show sez: “After-all the ladies paying!’

Yeah – Norma was a fascinating person who was on the brink of madness. However, in my opinion – this is the greatest Noir-musical that I have ever seen. And I hope to see it again and again.

SURPRISE! This show now playing at the Lesher Center does not have the budget that the original “Sunset Blvd” had, but they have done an amazing job with the production. Excellent and exciting, is what I say! The Singing of the principles and the chorus is extremely close to the original Broadway show. There were a few lighting glitches, but nothing too serious. Other than that everything else seemed to be seamless.

Loved the part where the Singing Tailors were outfitting Joe Gillis. Much to his chagrin -- they put a Vicuna coat on him -- Gillis complains – “What the hell is this? Mink?” But remember Joe – The Ladies paying.

“WITH ONE LOOK” is only one of the many breathtaking songs. Each one is so emotional and tells us a fabulous, glittering story about a “time that has passed us by”. And what a ‘time that was’. Heck, even Rudolph Valentino danced on Norma Desmond’s floor. Yes, those were the days.

Near the end: “The Greatest Star of All” – Norma Desmond after shooting Gillis goes into complete insanity. Disorganized, she walks down the Mansion's stairs; Norma says to the police and reporters who are waiting – “I’m ready for my close-up Mr. Demille.” And a Klieg light focuses on her. It was that last look – that chokes you up. Have the hankies ready. The show is a “Do Not Miss Experience!” It’s sumptuous, Rapturous, sensuous and Ravishing!” “A Triumph!” Hooray for the cast, orchestra and the Chorus for bringing such a sensational show to the Bay Area.

Here is the Luminous and Brilliant cast: Annmarie Martin as Norma Desmond—Robert Lopez is Joe Gillis – Betty Nicole Helfer as Betty Schaffer – Gene Bencomo is Max Von Mayerling – and Tom Flynn plays Cecil B. Demille. And, you’ll fall in love with the sprite and non-stop joy that the Ensemble Actors bring forth. 

SUNSET BOULEVARD is a cinematic spectacle. Is there an Opera of the show in the works? I wouldn’t doubt it! After all, it’s been a play, a movie and a musical.

THE DIRECTOR/CHOREOGRAPHER MICHAEL RYKEN GAVE US A BREATHTAKING CINEMATIC EVENING.

Musical Director & Conductor – Karl Pister couldn’t be better. “Pure Joy – Start too finish!” You know what? – “You’ll be glad you came!”


NOW PLAYING AT THE LESHER CENTER FOR THE ARTS. AND THANKS TO THE CONTRA COSTA MUSICAL THEATRE COMPANY FOR THE GREATEST STORY EVER.


RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (Highest Rating) – trademarked- 


(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook and he produced a long-running Arts Segment on PBS KQED))) 

*enchanced coverage on beyondchron 


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