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'Sunset Boulevard' is complex but terrific

 

Last updated 8/31/2017 at Noon

Joe Gillis (Robert L Townsend) gets to know Norma Desmond (Valerie Perri) with Max (Norman Large) in the background.

Elizabeth Youngman-Westphal

Special to the Village News

"Sunset Boulevard" is an account of gender bias and ageism set to music. Place: Hollywood Hills and Paramount Studios. When: 1950. Who: Norma Desmond, the once darling of silent movies who didn’t need words, she would “let her face tell the story”. She was 17. The account of her demise is poignant as it unfolds in the telling.

"Sunset Boulevard" delves into the life of a once famous actress who had the misfortune to age. If one can be considered old at 47?

Based on the Billy Wilder film, "Sunset Boulevard", the play was written by Don Black and Christopher Hampton with music by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Unavailable to Norma, unlike today, when actresses resort to using Botox, laser and plastic surgery (frequently before they are even 30) Norma had to succumb to her fate: maturity.

While Desmond’s male contemporaries became more distinguished with maturity, her fate was decided (by men) that she was too old to be on the big screen. Subsequently, her three million fans were told that Desmond was to enjoy early retirement or so they said. In truth, for self-preservation, she exiled herself into seclusion in her Hollywood hills mansion.

Norma Desmond is played with conviction by Valerie Perri. Her beautiful voice resonates the pain and madness of Norma’s situation.

Her former director/husband turned protector/butler, Max von Mayerling is played with dignity by Norman Large. It is his baritone voice that is not only commanding, it is bewitching to hear.

And then here comes Joe Gillis (Robert J. Townsend). Townsend exposes Gillis’s character flaws. He is a schemer, a user, a gigolo. There is little to admire about Joe Gillis except his winning looks.

Betty Schaefer (Katie Sapper) and Artie Green (Shayne Mims) provide the romance, with appearances by Cecil B. DeMille (John George Campbell) and the despicable Shelldrake (Paul Morgavo). Clothes do make the man as did Manfred (Johnny Fletcher) with his performance.

The ensemble is completed with wonderful singers and dancers playing multiple parts. They are Scott Arnold, Caitlyn Calfas, Maximilian Deloach, Lise Hafso, Luke Harvey Jacobs, Ted Leib, Erica Marie, Missy Marion, Jessica Mason, Jacob Narcy, Greg Nicholas, Kirklyn Robinson, Bethany Slomka, Debra Wanger, E.Y. Washington, and Evan White.

Sunset Boulevard is a complex production. It takes skill to pull it together. With extravagant set designs by The Music Theater of Wichita, the Moonlight team, for this show, is headed by Larry Raben as director and for musical staging. More support from JD Dumas, musical director and of course the talented Kenneth Gammie as conductor.

Norma Desmond (Valerie Perri) says, "I am ready for my close up, Mr. DeMille." (Norma Desmond (Valerie Perri) says, "I am ready for my close up, Mr. DeMille.")

Two integral parts of the evenings performance include the impeccable sound design by Jim Zadai and our favorite lighting designer, Jean-Yves Tessier with his opposable thumb. Wardrobe designers Carlotta Malone, Roslyn Lehman and Renetta Lloyd were spot on for wardrobe, Kathleen Kenna certainly knows her way around a makeup table and Peter Herman hit the mark with wig selections.

All in all, this is a terrific production. The venue is ideal in its relaxed setting to enjoy the melodic sounds on a moonlight night under the stars.

Sunset Boulevard runs until Sept. 2 at the Moonlight Stage, 1250 Vale Terrace Way, Vista, Calif. with free parking. Come early and bring a picnic for either inside at your seats or outside in the park. Nights can be chilly. Box Office: (760) 724-2110 or visit moonlightstage.com.

 

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