The shallowness of Hollywood in its heyday is exposed in Sunset Boulevard, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical now playing at Mercury Summer Stock. And thanks to ingenious and imaginative staging by director Pierre-Jacques Brault, this musical rendition of the famous 1950 movie starring Gloria Swanson is a feast for the eyes and ears. Even though there is one significant performance element missing, this is a show that compels attention at all times. Norma Desmond is a washed up silent movie star who now lives a secluded life in her Sunset Blvd. mansion, attended by her devoted servant (and former director) Max von Mayerling. When down-on-his-luck, cynical screenwriter Joe Gillis is trying to avoid car repossession thugs, he ducks into the garage of the Desmond estate, and both of their lives change in dramatic ways. The production is handsome and riveting in a number of ways. Brault keeps the large ensemble of actors on stage for most of the piece, using them as supporting characters as well as walls and stairways. To wit, since there is no staircase on this stage, Brault creates one by having Desmond enter for the first time (and again at the end) by walking on a line of wooden chairs with the other actors providing their arms as a continuous railing. As Gillis, Brian Marshall bites off his character's lines with appropriate bitterness, although he lacks the age and/or dissipation to really come off as cynical and downtrodden as he should be. And, as always, he handles his songs with professional aplomb. Of course, the major role in this show is Desmond, and Helen Todd contributes a well-trained, rich voice to her songs, particularly on "With One Look" and "As If We Never Said Goodbye." But Todd doesn't convey the crumbling façade of this woman's psyche until very late in the second act. That said, this show features a wonderful score by Webber, with lyrics by Christopher Hampton and Don Black. When you add that to the acrid whiff of unhinged ambition, and Brault's impressive staging, you've got one fine show.
Through July 26, produced by Mercury Summer Stock at Notre Dame College, 1857 S. Green Road, South Euclid, 216-771-5862.
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