Book and Lyrics by Don Black & Christopher Hampton
Based on the Billy Wilder Film
Directed by William Ostek
Music Direction by Roberta Duchak
Choreographed by Tammy Mader
At Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre
Christine Sherrill give a tour de force performance as the demented silent film star, Norma Desmond
It has been eight years since I saw Sunset Boulevard at the Marriott Theatre and I realized at the opening of William Osetek’s solid production of Lloyd Webber’s 1993 Sunset Boulevard that I have grown to dislike the talk-singing, almost operatic style Webber used here. This style made all singers in a particular song sound alike. Webber comes off as a frustrated opera composer without the talent. Amazingly, I realized that many younger theatre patrons have never seen the film from which this musical was derived and few had ever seen the musical. Many were surprised to hear the quasi-recitative. It annoyed me greatly since it forced the talented cast to sound forced.
But, director Ostetek peopled this show with a fine assortment of “A” list musical performers who gave contrast and needed energy to this dark musical about a demented recluse aging silent film star who lives in the shadow of her lost stardom with her butler and former husband. We meet a struggling screen writer, Joe Gillis (Will Ray) who stumbles upon Norma’s mansion and moves in to re-write her screen play that she believes that Paramount will be eager to produce, thus her comeback.
What drives this musical are two elements – the musical is very true to the film and the depiction of Norma is vividly presented making the role of Norma Desmond one of the most memorable in any Broadway musical. Played on a impressive set (designed by Scott Davis) with a cast of 23, Sunset Boulevard is a major spectacle.
In Sunset Boulevard, there are few actual songs mixed with all the recitative, three true songs actually and they are terrific. Christine Sherrill, a fabulous Norma, sings two of the fine numbers: her self-designing song: “With One Look” in which we see both her delusion and her past film style plus her triumph return visit to the Paramount studio – “As If We Never Said Goodbye.” Christine Sherrill not only belts these tunes with deep emotions but she “sells’ Norma’s angst. Experiencing Sherrill delivering these two anthems is worth the trip to Oakbrook. This is a complete tour de force performance by Christine Sherrill.
Will Ray’s performance as Joe Gillis, at first grated on me due to his struggle with that awful recitative, but his acting was terrific and when he and Dara Cameron (Betty) sang the third real song, the duet “Too Much In Love To Care,” I appreciated Ray and Cameron’s vocal chops.
Sunset Boulevard is a strange work. I believe it would work better with straight dialogue with 4 or 5 songs including the above mentioned numbers. Maybe a drama with songs? Let me state that the Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre’s production is slick, smooth and satisfying. For those who have never seen Sunset Boulevard, it will be a treat.
At Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, IL, call 630-530-0111, www.drurylaneoakbrook.com, tickets $35 – $40 -$45, Wednesdays at 1:30 pm, Thursdays at 1:30 & 8 pm, Fridays at 8:30 pm, Saturdays at 5 & 8:30 pm, Sundays at 2 & 6 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission.