Porchlight Music Theatre’s Sunset Boulevard Remembers Golden Age Glamor but Forgets the Horror 

Sunset Boulevard, the famous film turned musical sensation, places the Golden Age of cinema on the stage. This Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, with lyrics and book by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, adapts the film by Billy Wilder into a stirring operetta. This production in particular left me humming the dramatic themes on my way back to the train. Directed by Artistic Director Michael Weber, Porchlight Music Theatre’s Sunset Boulevard features stunning design, an incredibly skilled cast, and a muddled narrative that loses the most memorable line from the film during the final moments of the musical.

The design team captures Golden Age glamor in every aspect. Jeff Kmiec’s versatile set plays with perspective and incorporates a few other old Hollywood tricks. Manual spotlights add a dramatic flair to Maggie Fullilove-Nugent’s lighting design, which also harkens back to this bygone era. Projection design by Anthony Churchill puts the silver screen on stage. Cinematography blends into the space and merges the two mediums living within Sunset Boulevard. Every piece of this production is carefully selected to emphasize the difference between the old and the new.

The world outside Norma Desmond’s archaic mansion is lively, bright, and modern. The ensemble of Hollywood dreamers bring that world to life with animated characterizations. The opening group number, “Let’s Have Lunch,” is a burst of chaotic energy that rushes the stage in a Hollywood frenzy. Each ensemble member is an individual cog in the moviemaking machine, and those individual roles are performed with worldbuilding specificity. From the PA to the backup dancers, everyone has their part — and watching it all come together is something magical. Shanna Vanderwerker’s choreography confines the chaos into energetic numbers; the Sunset Boulevard ensemble is a controlled explosion of wild energy and charming characters.

Billy Rude revels in the chaos as penniless screenwriter Joe Gillis. He carries the weight of the thriller genre, while still having a sense of humor when lightness is required. Porchlight paints Joe Gillis as a hero, and Rude certainly fits the bill. The manipulative and unfeeling screenwriter, however, is no hero. Michelle Lauto is a refreshing change of pace to the wild world as Betty Schaefer, who fits in those crazy group numbers without getting lost in the shuffle. Rude and Lauto each have a beautiful control of the musical’s difficult, operatic score.

Hollis Resnik is spellbinding as Norma Desmond. From the very first moment, it’s hard to look away. In Act 2 Norma Desmond visits the Paramount set, a spotlight frames her, and the audience is captured. Resnik’s song “As If We Never Said Goodbye” is enchanting and heartfelt. The chaos we’ve come to expect from the Hollywood set is transformed, almost frozen in time. In this moment we see the set through Desmond’s eyes; warm, comfortable, and home. This makes it all the more heartbreaking when Norma Desmond finally reaches her breaking point. Hollis Resnik takes extreme care with Norma’s separation from reality. In the musical’s haunting final moments, the music falls away and she is left clutching at herself, falling against the banister, desperately searching for something to bring her back to earth.

This ambitious production of Sunset Boulevard has all the pieces for a dazzling take on this disturbing musical. Execution, however, confuses the vision and the final product lacks polish.

Outside of the larger than life group numbers, there isn’t much clear direction of this undeniably talented cast. The stark difference between the world outside and Nora Desmond’s mansion is clear but jarring. There isn’t a similar structuring of the haunting stillness within the walls and those quiet moments are more wanting than chilling. There is no guidance between the energetic highs and the unexciting lows which means the most intimate moments fall flat.

Sunset Boulevard, at Porchlight Music Theatre, runs at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts until December 8th (extended).


Hollis Resnik: Norma Desmond

Billy Rude: Joe Gillis

Michelle Lauto: Betty Schaefer

Larry Adams: Max Von Meyerling

Joe Giovannetti: Artie Green

David Girolmo: Cecil B. DeMille

Anna Brockman: Ensemble

Marcellus Burt: Ensemble

Justin Cavazos: Ensemble

Laz Estrada: Ensemble

Brian Healy: Ensemble

Alex Jackson: Ensemble

Molly Kral: Ensemble

Mandy Modic: Ensemble

Michelle Owens: Ensemble

Shane Roberie: Ensemble

Danny Spagnuolo: Ensemble

Laura Sportiello: Ensemble

Ambria Sylvain: Ensemble


Aaron Benham, Piano/Conductor

Elena Spiegel, Violin 1

Celeste Park, Violin 2

Desiree Miller, Cello

Kedgrick Pullums, Reeds

Marcel Bonfim, Bass

Anthony Scandora, Percussion



Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Book & Lyrics by Don Black & Christopher Hampton

Based on the film by Billy Wilder

Michael Weber, Director

Shanna Vanderwerker, Choreographer

Aaron Benham, Music Director

Kevin Barthel, Wig Design

Anthony Churchill, Projection Design

Maggie Fullilove-Nugent, Lighting Design

Robert Hornbostel, Sound Design

Jeff Kmiec, Set Design

Bill Morey, Costume Design

Michael Hendricks, Stage Manager

Jackie Robinson, Assistant Stage Manager

Hai Alvarez-Millard, Assistant Stage Manager

Charlene Walkanoff, Assistant Stage Manager

Samantha Treible, Wardrobe Supervisor

Jamie Davis, Audio Engineer

Bek Lambrecht, Technical Director

Catherine Allen, Production Manager

Alex Rhyan, Production and Operations Director.

Leave a Reply