REVIEW: Sunset Boulevard


I was invited to check out Sunset Boulevard, at the New Century Theatre in Minneapolis.  I had never seen this musical before, but based on the description, I was excited to see what all the buzz was about.

Featuring music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Sunset Boulevard weaves a magnificent tale of faded glory and unfulfilled ambition. Silent movie star Norma Desmond longs for a return to the big screen, having been discarded by Tinseltown with the advent of ‘talkies.’ Her glamour has faded in all but her mind. When she meets struggling Hollywood screen-writer Joe Gillis in dramatic circumstances, their subsequent passionate and volatile relationship leads to an unforeseen and tragic conclusion.

The New Century Theatre is a small and intimate theater.  I have enjoyed performances in the space on prior occasions, so I was definitely curious to see how the director would adapt a Broadway-scale musical for this environment.  Somehow they still managed to fit in an orchestra, but the set changes proved more difficult within the space constraints.  The backdrop and stage stayed pretty much the same, with the addition and removal of props.  To indicate a change in the scene’s location, video monitors on the side of the stage displayed images of the place where the scene was supposed to take place.  I found the monitors to be more distracting than helpful.

The acting and signing were pretty good, but not great.  I often got the impression that the actors used most of their efforts to concentrate on nailing the vocals and, therefore, the acting was a bit shallow.  In a small space, actors can replace showy theatrics necessary in larger venues (when most of the audience is more than 200 feet away) with more nuanced performances.  Instead of nuance, I often got the impression that the actors were just staring at the back wall and concentrating on the vocals rather than engaging each other to form a compelling scene.  In addition, the chemistry between the main characters, Joe and Norma, was nonexistent.  Not having seen this particular musical before, I was bewildered to find out that the plot included a romance between Joe and Norma as Joe appeared to be a normal guy and Norma was a complete kook with little appeal.  I don’t think all of these shortcomings can be blamed on the small venue.  For comparison, I was quite impressed with how Mixed Blood Theatre translated the hit Next to Normal into their former fire station venue.   I am sad to say that the adaptation was not successful here.  The great thing about this production of Sunset Boulevard is that it’s easy on the wallet.  If you want to judge it, you can see it for yourself with little to lose!

Sunset Boulevard plays through June 23, 2013.  Tickets start at $24.

DEAL ALERT:  Save 50% off on tickets for the June 6 and June 7 performances at