Sunset Boulevard

An Ageless Story of Deception 


"There once was a time in this business when I had the eyes of the whole world! But that wasn't good enough for them, oh no! They had to have the ears of the whole world too. So they opened their big mouths and out came talk…talk…talk!"

These were the formidable words of the silent film diva Norma Desmond. This silent screen diva was once a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood during the silent film era from the mid-1890s to the late 1920s at Paramount Theater. Who needed dialogues when they had faces!

Porchlight Theatre brings to the stage 'Sunset Boulevard' the first musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber to be produced at Porchlight, and winner of eight Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Original Score and Best Book of Musicals. The infamous musical tells the unspeakable truth of how American show business dealt with serious issues surrounding women of a certain age.

Desmond, Hollywood's most eccentric silent screen goddesses, a woman in her fifties was dealing with a vanishing career. Just like the collapsing sign" Hollywoodland," only to be replaced by a new and briefer sign "Hollywood" in 1949, Desmond's life of being known around the world was slowing fading away.

pmt_sunsetblvd_2Sunset Boulevard, is based on a fictional character named Norma Desmond, is said to be a combination of the life of real silent film female stars. Known as one of the best America films is a story with a message that remains as pungent, with many memorable quotes and an unforgettable address; 10086 Sunset Boulevard. The residency of Norma Desmond's glorious old Renaissance-style mansion, where the world finally hears the silent screen diva speak.

Narrated by a dead man named Joe Gillis (Billy Rude), an unemployed screenwriter needing a little "Lady Luck," stumbles upon an older woman seeking to rekindle her career. The play, like the original screenplay, takes us through flashbacks and events that lead to Joe's death being faced down in a pool at the infamous address of Sunset Boulevard.

Six months earlier, Joe, who was unsuccessful in getting anyone to produce his work, is flat broke. He tries to sell Paramount Pictures producer, Sheldrake (Shane Roberie) on a screenplay he submitted. However, script reader Betty Schaefer (Michelle Lauto) unknowing that Joe is listening, harsh critiques all but kills his chances.

Being that this is a classic story, we will paraphrase. Joe runs from the repo man, meets Desmond, an obsessed Golden Age star at her house, and decides to live with her after she mistakes him as an undertaker. Joe is ushered into the mansion by her butler Max von Mayerling (Larry Adams), and he recognizes her as the long-forgotten silent film star Norma Desmond (Hollis Resnik). She learns that Joe is a writer and hires him to assist with the screenplay that she believes will revive her career.

The story concludes with Joe falling in love with Betty, and Desmond being scorned, and kills him before he could leave.

Sunset Boulevard is a story of how people can equally take advantage of someone to benefit themselves. How pmt_sunsetblvd_7deceptions, seduction can lead to the destruction of the mind, body, and soul. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but the chemistry between Resnik, who is a Chicago legend, and Rude, seemed strange and somewhat off. This may be due to their glaring age difference, which isn't as noticeable in previous productions. Both performances were noteworthy, but it felt at times forced and not believable that the two would be together as a couple. Resnik is brilliant as the delusional Desmond with the hauntingly gaze. Rude, who seemed a bit too young for the role of Gillis, wasn't quite as convincing as a love interest for Desmond; however, he does a splendid job as the opportunist, Joe Gillis. 

Director Michael Weber has pulled together the story’s cinematic and theatrical elements on the intimate stage at Porchlight Theatre with a great team. Aaron Benham’s musical direction with an orchestra of seven is delightful, as is Jeffrey D. Kmiec (the scenic designer) who created a grandeur setting of a gilded staircase, to Schwabs’ Pharmacy and soda fountain, to Paramount Pictures’ front gate, on a small stage with the show’s large ensemble of supporting actors.

The cast included veteran Chicago actor Larry Adams, who loves hard, he does a wonderful job as the devoted, butler, and ex-husband. As a supporting actor, his brilliant vocals were superb. Joe Giovannetti, who plays the great director Cecil B. DeMille with gentle kindness. Michelle Lauto brought her beautiful vocals and was very convincing as Betty Schaefer, the script reader, who spoke her mind with passion.

Sunset Boulevard is a poignant story regarding how women are viewed in Hollywood once they reach a certain age and how manipulation is a recipe for dialing M for murder.

Let's Play Recommends Sunset Boulevard at Porchlight Music Theatre.

Porchlight Music Theatre Presents
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber 
Book by Don Black and Christopher Hampton 
Based on Billy Wilder film
Direction by Porchlight Music Theatre Artistic Director Michael Weber 
Choreography by Shanna VanDerwerker
Music Direction by Aaron Benham
Through December 8, 2019

Filed under: ChicagoNow

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