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September 22nd, 2010 BEN WATERHOUSE | Performance
 

Sunset Boulevard (Portland Center Stage)

Not all right, Mr. Webber.

     
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COSTUME PARTY: The well-dressed chorus.
IMAGE: Owen Carey

In the spirit of fairness, I’d like to say right now that Sunset Boulevard—Andrew Lloyd Webber’s slavish stage adaptation of Billy Wilder’s 1950 film—is not the worst piece of musical theater I’ve ever seen. There have been many that are less original (Spamalot), less interesting (Bark! The Musical), less comprehensible (Das Barbecü, a retelling of Wagner’s ring cycle set in Texas). But those shows are not, to my knowledge, currently being produced by major regional theater companies, and Sunset, Webber’s only musical since Phantom of the Opera to have any success whatsoever, is pretty awful. The music is not memorable, the lyrics are not clever and the plot is not original. There is nothing to recommend the show but spectacle.

Fortunately for PCS season ticketholders, the spectacle is pretty impressive. G.W. Mercier’s set, a constantly moving contraption of stairways and panels and gates and couches, becomes a shimmering, surreal dream of mid-century Hollywood under Robert Wierzel’s alternately starry and watery lights. The costumes, drawn from Anthony Powell’s designs for the 1993 premiere, fall somewhere between the first season of Mad Men and actual madness. Norma Desmond’s songs aren’t particularly interesting, but Linda Mugleston delivers them powerfully. Local favorite Leif Norby gets a nice comedic turn as the menswear salesman. Some of the book, regurgitated verbatim from Wilder’s screenplay, is unintentionally hilarious. If you aren’t looking for emotional depth, good music or fun, you might leave happy. But shouldn’t we ask for more from the theater than flash? Sunset Boulevard is a horrible mess of nostalgia, a musical composed of one decent hook and two hours of filler. I think I understand why Chris Coleman wanted to direct it—costume parties are fun, and all theater people love larger-than-life characters—and I assume there are enough movie buffs in Portland to make the show pay off. But I can’t imagine why Webber wrote the thing in the first place. I guess, after his success with musicals about cats and trains, he figured he could make a smash hit out of anything. Poor Sir Andrew—he used to be big.


SEE IT: The Gerding Theater, 128 NW 11th Ave., 445-3700. 7:30 pm Tuesdays-Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays, alternating 2 pm Saturday and 7:30 pm Sunday performances. Closes Oct. 17. $43-$63, $23 students.
 
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