Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Broadway Center Stage: Sunset Boulevard
Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Stephanie J. Block and Cast
Photo by Jeremy Daniel
Stephanie J. Block crowds so much into her every moment onstage in the Kennedy Center's Broadway Center Stage production of Sunset Boulevard, it's impossible to look away. Her Norma Desmond is the imperious dethroned queen of Hollywood first seen in Billy Wilder's 1950 movie, but Block also exposes Norma's moments of giddy girlishness (perhaps a throwback to her teenage beginnings in the business, as the audience learns) and the paradox of a woman trying to get and keep love through domineering behavior and manipulation.

The stage of the Eisenhower Theater is large and wide, allowing director Sammi Cannold to command what looks like hundreds of performers while also zeroing in for the more intimate scenes. The rear wall of Paul Tate dePoo III's scenic design is made to resemble the screen of an old-fashioned movie theater, which displays title cards in the style of silent film and brings to life settings in both the studio and Norma's mansion.

The score by Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Don Black and Christopher Hampton (book and lyrics) is through-sung, shifting in tone from Norma's two arias (determination in "With One Look," awe in "As If We Never Said Goodbye") to the jazzy late-1940s tunes for Joe Gillis (Derek Klena) and his fellow Hollywood strugglers.

While Block shows how Norma can escape into her own reality, Klena brings an appealing ironic edge and powerful voice to his character. Joe has seen the collapse of his illusions about working in Hollywood, but he realizes that he might get what he wants if he plays along with Norma.

Nathan Gunn, with his resonant voice and expressive face, makes the audience ache for Max von Mayerling, the only person who has stayed faithful to Norma in her years of "exile" from the spotlight. His gravitas and sense of responsibility for Norma are palpable. Unfortunately, Aul'i Cravalho can't make Betty Schaefer more than a sweet, still optimistic screenwriter who strives to keep Joe from getting too cynical.

The Kennedy Center maintains its high level of production values, from the 20-piece onstage orchestra conducted by Ben Cohn to Alejo Vietti's luscious costumes (especially the metallic, glittering ones for Norma), Cory Pattak's scene-setting lighting design, and Emily Maltby's character-driven choreography.

The Broadway Center Stage production of Sunset Boulevard runs through February 8, 2023, in the Eisenhower Theater, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 800-444-1324 or (202) 467-4600 or visit

Directed by Sammi Cannold
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton
Based on the Billy Wilder film
Choreographed by Emily Maltby
Music director: Ben Cohn

Norma Desmond: Stephanie J. Block
Joe Gillis: Derek Klena
Betty Schaefer: Aul'i Cravalho
Max von Mayerling: Nathan Gunn
Cecil B. DeMille: Paul Schoeffler
Sheldrake: Kevin Pariseau
Manfred: Tyley Ross
Sammy: Lance Roberts
Ensemble: David André, Lauren Blackman, Julio Catano-Yee, Colin Cunliffe, Haile Ferrier, Emily Harvey, Wonza Johnson, Aubrie Knapp, Ryland Marbutt, Kevin Pariseau, Lance Roberts, Tyley Ross, Paul Schoeffler, Maria Cristina Posada Slye, Kristin Yancy