Sunday, September 9, 2018
Don't be surprised. Although he wrote it, "Sunset Boulevard" does not sound like Andrew Lloyd Webber -- more like Stephen Sondheim, actually. But the musical is as complex and demanding as any combination you can imagine of Sondheim's typically tongue-twisting lyrics and Webber's demanding arias.
What makes the next Arkansas Public Theatre production so different is that music -- and it's as hard to explain as it is challenging to sing. It has that bouncy feel of 1940s musicals like Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma," but with tempo changes and minor chords that make it sound more like Webber's better-known "Evita" -- with just a touch of the soaring "Phantom of the Opera" sprinkled on top.
WHEN — 8 p.m. Sept. 14-15; 2 p.m. Sept. 16; again Sept. 20-23 & Sept. 27-30
WHERE — Arkansas Public Theatre at the Victory in Rogers
COST — $28-$39
INFO — 631-8988
It was not a show Ed McClure ever expected to do at APT -- but not because of the music.
"The first time I saw it was the original Broadway tour with Petula Clark," he remembers. "It had all the bells and whistles -- Norma Desmond's three-story house flying in and out and every trick that could be done on stage at that time! We could never do all that.
"Then last year, I saw the Glenn Close revival on Broadway, and it was very, very intimate, very scaled down -- and very unconventional for Broadway," he says. "And I thought, 'The show is so much better like this, when it's about the story' -- about this weird love affair that just goes awry.
"I wanted to do it because Andrew Lloyd Webber is so beloved, but this production borrows on the Broadway revival that was completely free of spectacle," McClure concludes. "We're treating it like we're doing a play -- but fortunately for me and for the cast, Lisa Welty Auten is a formidable music director and definitely up for the challenge of this music."
Based on the 1950 movie of the same name, "Sunset Boulevard" tells the story of a fallen Hollywood star, Norma Desmond, who lives alone in her fading mansion with only her servant Max (played by Tom Karounos) to keep her company. As the show opens, her pet monkey has just died, and it's an emotional blow -- revealing both the depth of her loneliness and her delusions of continuing grandeur. When Joe Gillis, a down-on-his-luck scriptwriter, wanders into her garden -- hiding from thugs trying to repossess his car -- Norma latches on to him as heaven sent. He can help her edit her comeback script, the one she's written for Cecil B. DeMille to direct her in as "Salome."
"When we opened the Victory Theater in 2000, we did a musical revue of sorts," remembers Kathy McClure, who is portraying Desmond. "The very first song that was sung on the new stage was 'It's As If,' and I got to sing the first line of that song as the first song sung on our new stage. I have wanted to do this show since that time.
"Then when we saw it last year in New York with Glenn Close, it just sealed the deal for me," she continues. "I could never be as good as she was, but I know this show will be one that is remembered for many years to come because of our brilliant cast and also for the set, which was built by Steve St. John."
"I love this musical so much," agrees Brandon Hamilton, who plays Gillis. "This is the hardest part I have ever played. I am being stretched vocally, rhythmically and in my acting skills. The biggest reward? That is easy. This is my first experience with APT. The people involved in this show are unbelievably amazing. They have been allowing me to stand on their shoulders from day one. Every single person welcomed me with open arms. I cannot quite put into words how much I admire them all."
Of course, in every 1940s musical, boy meets girl, boy loses girl -- and that's true in "Sunset Boulevard," too, on multiple levels. One of them is the budding romance between Joe and a beautiful, young script editor named Betty, portrayed with wide-eyed innocence by Sarah Mouritsen.
But in this case, girl loses boy, boy loses everything,and aging star is left with only her delusions. The show ends with her saying, "I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille" into the glare of police spotlights.
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