Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber took a 1950’s classic film melodrama, Sunset Boulevard, and added music to prove that the old show remained relevant to current theatergoers when the stage musical debuted in London in 1993.
With an opulent set, beautiful lighting, and sound so clear the audience could hear every word of dialogue and lyric, The J’s production of “Sunset Boulevard” stands as one the Jewish Community Center’s best productions in recent years. The musical directed by Tim Bair with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton adapted from the Billy Wilder film from 1950. The film competed for several Academy Awards and brought a third Oscar nomination to silent film star Gloria Swanson in one of her few “talkies.”
“Desperate for cash,” according to The J, “screenwriter Joe Gillis has a chance meeting with a faded silent film star. Norma Desmond lives in her crumbling Sunset Boulevard mansion with only her butler to keep her company. She has become a sad demented recluse convinced that the outside world is clamoring for her dramatic return. Enticing him with the prospect of script work she puts him up in her mansion and he becomes ever more involved and entangled in her life.”
The story remains a basic melodrama with a few twists and some surprises. There must be a love story for it to work, and there is. Norma Desmond, the fading film star stands out as the cougar, and Joe the prey. Unfortunately, Joe plays along for the money, the gifts, and the luxury Norma provides. But, he’s fallen in love with another person. And, the other person, Betty, wants to marry, but not Joe. She’s in love with someone else. As the story develops, Norma becomes more desperate and delusional. Joe becomes trapped in her life of luxury, and Max, the butler, reveals secrets from Norma’s past that reveal a lot about both Max and Norma.
“Sunset Boulevard” works on many levels with the new production at The J standing out with is strong characterization, Webber’s music, and sets that fascinate the audience. The sets, beautifully constructed, colored, and adding the sense of wealth to the production help create the magic of “Sunset Boulevard.”
The cast delivers the melodrama with strong stage presence, excellent voices, and clear delivery of lines throughout the entire production. The actor and sound crew deserve lots of recognition for this aspect of the show. “Sunset Boulevard” really contains four strong characters, Norma, Joe, Max, and Betty. The rest of the cast are fairly small parts, but essential to fill the stage and give some balance to the production.
Probably the strongest feature of The J’s “Sunset Boulevard” production are the incredible voices to deliver the Webber music. The four leads all possess strong voices and that alone helps keep the audience honed in on the story. Two ballads, sung by Wendy Musick, “With One Look” and “As If We Never Said Goodbye” cement the Norma Desmond character and her delusional state of mind. Megan Edmonds and Dalton Homolka add a duet that can send shivers. John Edmond’s voice always delivers a great baritone sound. The all stand out.
Another strong feature of the JCC production lies in its intimate setting. Generally produced on a much larger scale for a larger auditorium, this production of “Sunset Boulevard” gives the feel that the audience lies within the spacious mansion and sound stage.
A special nod goes to the costumes. For Norma, the clothes look like something out of the last 20s and 30s, the time when she reached her pinnacle. The show is fun for all ages. The show is G-rated and there is not a hint of profanity in the dialogue.
The “Sunset Boulevard” Cast:
Norma: Wendy Musick
Joe: Dalton Homolka
Betty: Megan Edmonds
Max: John Edmonds
Sheldrake/Ensemble: Ray Zarr
Artie/Ensemble: Matthew McDowell
Manfred/Ensemble: Delano Mendoza
Cecil B. DeMille/Ensemble: Don Leonard
Reporter/Ensemble: Wendy Bucheit
Policeman/Ensemble: Dashawn Young
Ensemble: Jake Swaney
Ensemble: Renee Blinn
Ensemble: Lindsay Day
Ensemble: Sarah Montoya
Ensemble: Whitney Armstrong
Ensemble: Natalie Crane
Director/Scenic Design: Tim Bair
Musical Director/Conductor: Marsha Canaday
Choreographer: Guy Gardner
Scenic & Lighting Design/Production Manager: Jayson Chandley
Costume Design: Julia Ras
Properties Design: Bill Christie
Sound Design: Alex Davila
Production Stage Manager: Megan Segars
Assistant Stage Manager: Don Arnott
Production Assistant/Scenic Fabrication: Joshua Gleeson
Cello: Rachel Chase
Reed 1: Kaytee Dietrich
Reed 2: Joe Gall
Reed 3: Vince Rubino
Bass Trombone 1: Andrew Moss
Trumpet 1: Paul Cornelson
Violin 1: Jessica Cox
Viola: Vicki Farron
Horn 1: Andy Johnson
Horn 2: Jerry Old
Keyboard 1/Conductor: Marsha Canaday
Keyboard 2: Loren Bridge
Percussion: Kyle Brown
“Sunset Boulevard” continues at The J through Nov. 20. For tickets, contact the Jewish Community Center of Kansas City’s website.
Tags: Theater, Performing Arts, Arts & Entertainment, The Jewish Community Center of Kansas City, The J, White Theater, “Sunset Boulevard”, Kansas City, Kansas City Theater, Musical