The touring company of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard” delivers a show that packs a powerful punch, creating perfectly the emotions and feelings necessary to make it work.
Former star Petula Clark plays former star Norma Desmond, a silent-film star who became a has-been when sound came in. Now, in 1950, Norma lives alone in her mansion with her obsessively protective servant Max (Allen Fitzpatrick).
Enter Joe Gillis (Lewis Cleale), a young, idealistic screenwriter who, while fleeing some bad guys, winds up in Norma’s yard. She takes a liking to him, and she wants him to help edit her screenplay — the movie she insists will be her comeback vehicle.
Meanwhile, Joe tries to develop a more well-grounded, realistic relationship with a fellow writer named Betty (Christeena Michelle Riggs), who, alas, is engaged to Joe’s friend Artie (Michael Berry).
In terms of musicality and depth of material, this is the best thing Andrew Lloyd Webber has ever been associated with. Don Black and Christopher Hampton’s book and lyrics, based on the 1950 Billy Wilder film, are occasionally funny, often wrenching, and nearly always fascinating.
A few scenes drag, and Joe’s relationship with Betty never quite rings true, but overall the show moves at a brisk pace, engaging the audience’s interest throughout.
Clark gives a bravura performance as an aging, deluded woman who refuses to accept the reality that her time has passed. By the end, she is ghastly and horrible, her age having finally caught up with her — until she puts the makeup and wigs back on and becomes her younger self again.
The end of the show is haunting and darkly comic — though not in a way that will make anyone laugh — and rather a surprise to anyone not already familiar with the story.
Cleale is also good as the tortured writer Joe. Norma showers him with gifts and affection, and he lives in the lap of luxury, yet he longs for “real life,” for something more fulfilling. He sings bitterly of “Sunset Boulevard,” and the nastiness that lies beneath it — one of several excellent songs in this show, all well-sung by a talented ensemble cast.
I missed the first five minutes of this show due to an accident on I-15 -- the first time in 152 shows I'd ever been late. But I think I was figure out what was going on, since nothing had really happened yet.