Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Of course, the most important part in any production of this musical is the casting of the lead character, Norma Desmond. As portrayed brilliantly by Elizabeth Ward Land, this Norma is simultaneously fascinating, frightening, glamorous and cunning. Indeed, she gives a full-out star performance that will linger in your mind for days after seeing the show. But this production comes up aces all around because, in addition to Norma, the other three main characters have been extremely well cast and are uniformly extraordinary. So, even if you have seen Sunset Boulevard on a grand scale, Music Theatre of Connecticut's stellar production is definitely worth checking out.
On Lindsay Fuori's relatively simple, multi-level set, the show flows seamlessly from beginning to end, propelled mostly by the strong acting and Andrew Lloyd Webber's sweeping music, which is played gorgeously by an offstage orchestra under the masterful musical direction of David John Madore. The costume design by Diane Vanderkroef is period perfect; with Jimm Halliday's fabulous designs for Norma Desmond.
Still, beautiful costumes can only go so far without the right actress as Norma. From the moment Elizabeth Ward Land makes her entrance and delivers a knockout rendition of "With One Look," she owns the stage and her singing voice is simply fantastic. Looking remarkably like Gloria Swanson, her Norma is formidable and she is completely up to the task of presenting the character's grand histrionics. This is a performance that deserves to be seen and celebrated. Perhaps her greatest moment in the show is the stunning delivery of "As If We Never Said Goodbye," when, in the story, Norma has returned, at last, to Paramount Studios.
Even with this mega-watt star turn at its center, the other lead performers make their own mark in the show. As Joe Gillis, Trevor Martin is absolutely perfect and carries his role effortlessly. Looking movie-star handsome, his best moment is at the start of the second act, when he delivers a powerful and ironic rendition of the title song. As Norma's butler and companion Max, James Patterson gives a fully committed and striking portrayal and maintains this stature throughout the show. As Betty Schaefer, Joe's screenwriting partner, Sandra Marante looks remarkably like a young Judy Garland and, even without a big solo moment of her own, she is enormously touching. The rest of the company is fine, with Jacob Sundlie absolutely ideal as Artie Green, Betty's fiancé, and Jeff Gurner making a great Cecil B. DeMille.
The lighting design by RJ Romeo is quite effective and the production has also made good use of displaying film images on a wide curtain which, at times, covers much of the stage. For a show as mighty as Sunset Boulevard, director Kevin Connors and company, artistically, make a significant statement that this musical can be staged on a relatively simple scale and still work splendidly, with all of the 1950s Hollywood atmosphere completely intact. By all means, come to Music Theatre of Connecticut to see this Sunset Boulevard and be prepared for, among other things, Elizabeth Ward Land as a diva extraordinaire in a truly remarkable staging of this musical.
Sunset Boulevard runs through October 2, 2022, at Music Theatre of Connecticut, 509 Westport Ave., Norwalk CT. For tickets and information, please visit www.musictheatreofct.com.