Drury Lane Theatre’s nearly flawless production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard” throws down the gauntlet to all other musicals in quest of 2013 Jeff Awards come October.
This is West End-quality musical theater with merely a trek to the near west ‘burbs (Oakbrook Terrace) required to take it in.
Director William Osetek’s stellar cast of 24 mesmerizingly talented actors spins the operatic tale of silent film mega-star Norma Desmond. Modeled loosely on the life of Norma Talmadge, Desmond fails to transition to talkies and becomes a forgotten legend at age 50. Her resultant depression walks her down the pathways of delusion, manipulation and, finally, insanity. A full synopsis can be found here.
The character was brought to the silver screen by Gloria Swanson in the 1950 Billy Wilder film on which Lloyd Webber’s 1995 Tony Award-winning Best Musical is based.
But Swanson has nothing on Drury’s Christine Sherrill.
Channeling a bit of her inner Kathy Bates (“Misery”), Sherrill is demonically convincing as Desmond. So, too, is Will Ray as leading man Joe Gillis, a struggling screenwriter just a tad too eager to become Desmond’s younger kept man.
At its core, that’s what “Sunset Boulevard” is: the comingling of self-centered agendas on Hollywood’s most famous residential street, offering the audience a glimpse at both sides of celebrity’s coin as 1949 turns to 1950.
It’s all set to an eerily familiar Lloyd Webber score that’s positively brilliantly sung by this standout cast. To be sure, the vocals in this show’s signature pieces “With One Look” (Sherrill) and “New Ways to Dream” (Sherrill and Ray) are stellar. But perhaps most striking is the choral precision of the full cast in larger numbers; that’s what elevates this production to “best of year” status.
Also deserving of standout applause (and a nomination for best supporting actress) is Dara Cameron, who shines as Betty Schaefer, the Paramount script editor whose chemistry with Gillis is essential to authenticate the story’s progression Cameron’s duet with Ray in “Girl Meets Boy” is an absolute highlight.
Amidst this onstage talent pool it’s too easily forgotten that a production this completely enthralling is the result of equal talent in the wings. Scott Davis (sets), Tammy Mader (choreography), Roberta Duchak (music), Rita Pietraszek (lights), Ray Nardelli (sound), Theresa Ham (costumes), Rick Jarvie (makeup) and scores of other talented pros contribute to making “Sunset Boulevard” this Winter’s can’t-miss musical and this Fall’s odd’s-on favorite for Chicago theater honors.
“Sunset Boulevard” runs through March 24 at the Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, less than a 1-hour drive from all North Shore suburbs. Parking is complimentary. Information and tickets ($35-$46 with additional dinner packages and senior and student discounts for some shows) are available online or by phone (630) 530-0111.
Barry Reszel is a Libertyville-based writer, at-home dad and executive director of the not-for-profit entertainment company Liberty Town Productions.