Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Sunset Boulevard
The Players

Also see Bill's review of You Can't Take It With You

Tim Fitzgerald, Jeanne Larranaga and Logan O'Neil
The Players Theater is currently presenting the Florida premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard, adapted from the Billy Wilder movie. More and more, theaters capable of productions of large scale musicals are a dying breed. Therefore a musical such as Sunset Boulevard, arguably one of Lloyd Webber's strongest pieces, but which failed to capture the public's fancy, are unlikely to be seen that often. In Southwest Florida we are lucky to have three large, full time community theaters which strengthen each other and provide the opportunity to occasionally produce unusual fare. Michael Newton-Brown has done double duty as director and set designer. He is able to pull some strong performances from his principals.

Andrew Lloyd Webber has provided Sunset Boulevard with the full almost operatic sweep of his most successful musical Phantom of the Opera. It makes strong vocal demands on all the principals and also requires strong acting from the actress playing Norma Desmond. It is doubtful that any community theater could hope to due full justice to these parts, but The Players are doing quite a good job. Norma was played professionally by many of the greatest leading ladies working on both sides of the Atlantic—Patti LuPone, Glenn Close, Betty Buckley and Elaine Paige, among others. LuPone and Close showed the two extremes of playing Norma, the former with her full throated vocalism, the latter with intense acting covering the less exciting singing.

At The Players, Jeanne Larranaga favors the Glenn Close style, her acting very detailed, and she sings the part more than adequately. Logan O'Neil offers the strongest vocalism of the night, a strong presence as Joe, but less in touch with the beaten up, worn out side. Tim Fitzgerald exhibits all the right eeriness as Max and sings his big number "The Greatest Star of All" well. Sarah Cassidy is just the right blend of perkiness as Betty Schaefer, but the role of Rosemary in a recent production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying was perhaps a better fit, stylistically. She sings very well, especially the high ending of "Too Much in Love to Care." The ensemble is good, but greatly under populated because this show rehearsed through the holiday season.

Music Director Joyce Valentine, leading from the keyboard, paces the score nicely. She gets good support on woodwinds, percussion and from a single string player. Unfortunately, the sweep that could be provided by a larger ensemble is just not available.

The setting for Norma's home is quite lavish for community theater standards, while other locations are not as detailed. David M. Upton's lighting designs makes some nice use of shadow effects, especially apropos of the noir story. Costumes by Kaylene McCaw are effective, and for Norma, much more than that. The production makes good use of projections by Ren Pearson, who also plays Artie, helpful for period and mood setting. In the program I noticed "Special Thanks to Asolo Rep and Golden Apple." I am pleased when various companies come together like this, then I know that indeed we have a strong theater Community.

Bravo to Jeffery Kin, Artistic Director for stretching and serving up Florida's first look at Sunset Boulevard.

The Players Present Sunset Boulevard through January 27, 2013, at The Players Theater, 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL. Box Office (941) 365-2494. For more information visit

Norma Desmond: Jeanne Larranaga
Joe Gillis: Logan O'Neil
Max Von Mayerling: Tim Fitzgerald
Betty Schaefer: Sarah Cassidy
Cecil B. DeMille: Jay Bowman
Sheldrake: Randy Garmer
Manfred: Bill Sarazan
Ensemble: Alex Mahodevan, Lillian Moore, Tamara Solum, Lauren Ward, Debbi White.

Musical Director/Keyboard: Joyce Valentine
Woodwinds: Teri Booth
Strings: Erica Hendrickson-Boyd
Percussion: John Januszewski

Director/Set Designer: Michael Newton-Brown
Choreographer: Michelle Toyke
Costume Designer: Kaylene McCaw
Lighting Designer: David M. Upton

Photo: The Players Theater

See the current season schedule for West Coast Florida

--William S. Oser

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