The last time I attended a production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical adaptation of Billy Wilder’s borderline camp film Sunset Boulevard was over 15 years ago. It was mostly unmemorable, other than for lavish sets featuring staircases, swimming pools, and Paramount Studio sets. I was curious to see how the production at the intimate Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre would fare – and I was thrilled with the results.
Director Bill Kiska is clever enough in staging this mammoth show in his WOB space (the reveal of Kiska and co-designer Jordan Stocksdale’s ‘House on Sunset ‘is, in fact, stunning), but it turns out that scenery isn’t quite so important for successful execution of this musical. Sunset Boulevard is, at heart, a character-driven piece, and the happy consequence of a minimalist design is that it puts the focus squarely on the twisted story of a faded movie star and her opportunistic boy toy. This makes WOB’s production far more interesting than the one I remembered, and serves the material much better than million dollar production value.
The performances are the highlight of this production. As has-been movie star Norma Desmond, Jeanine Collins delivers a Broadway-worthy vocal performance, especially with her powerful renditions of “With One Look” and “As If We Never Said Goodbye,” and she captures all of the nuances of this iconic character. Her Norma veers seamlessly from charismatic, to fragile, to eccentric, to downright terrifying. As jaded writer-gigolo Joe Gillis, Jordan Stocksdale is similarly well cast. He anchors the show as a narrator who evokes equal parts sympathy and distrust. His emotional journey draws the audience in and holds them in suspense until his final exit.
Zane L. Oberholzer, Jr. gives a powerful supporting performance as the ominous butler Max, and he delivers an emotional and heartfelt performance of “Greatest Star of All.” Adorable Joey Banigan brings a breath of fresh air as ingenue writer Betty. There’s not a weak link in the ten actor ensemble, though Steve Steele is a versatile standout as Sheldrake and a number of other roles.
Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of pre-recorded accompaniment, but the orchestral music (credited to Stocksdale, Kiska and Joseph Baker) works well for this production, adding to the overall cinematic feel.
It turns out that Sunset Boulevard is a musical that was long overdue for its close-up, and that is exactly what you get at WOB’s engaging production.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission.
Sunset Boulevard plays through November 9, 2013 at Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre – 5 Willowdale Drive, in Frederick, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 662-6600.