Sarah Gibson as Norma Desmond.
Photo by Laurie Etchen
Minneapolis Musical Theatre has often tackled "big" shows with an eye for making them more intimate. From Tommy to Kiss of the Spider-Woman, the company has found that even the biggest show can find a home in a theater with a less-than Broadway budget.
Enter Sunset Boulevard, a musical more famous for its epic production (including an onstage pool) than the content of the Andrew Lloyd Webber score and book and lyrics from Don Black and Christopher Hampton.
The musical tackles the famous 1950 Billy Wilder film. In it, faded silent-film star Norma Desmond latches onto a young screenwriter for a last chance at fame. It doesn't end happily for either of them.
You can see the fruit of MMT's labor starting this weekend when the show opens at the New Century Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. We talked with MMT artistic head and show director Steven Meerdink about bringing Norma Desmond's story to the stage.
City Pages: What made you want to tackle this show?
Steven Meerdink: This show has been on our "short list" of possible productions for quite some time. Having seen the original production, I had a hard time getting past the idea of having to reproduce Norma Desmond's extravagant mansion on the stage, as well as the many other locations. When we were choosing the first couple of shows for the New Century Theatre, we definitely wanted shows with name recognition.
CP: What kind of adjustments have you had to make to bring such an epic show to the relatively small confines of the New Century?
SM: We have played with many ideas on how to present this show. However, since the entire piece is a flashback, we have landed on the idea of presenting it in the mental institution where Norma ends up (or, in my conclusion anyway). So, in this way we are able to present the show with minimal set pieces, and by using projected images, we can assist the audience in knowing exactly where we are for each scene. We are also using a live stage camera to incorporate the whole idea of film within Norma's life.
CP: How about the cast? How have they been working with the material?
SM: I think for anyone it is a daunting task of bringing an iconic film to life onstage. Since we have drastically changed the setting, we are able to put more focus on the characters, their entangled relationship, and the consequences of the choices they make. The cast is working very hard to bring these larger than life characters to a believable place for any audience.
CP: What will the audience get out of the experience?
SM: I think the idea of focusing on the characters and their relationships, and being in a more intimate space, will bring the audience closer to what is at the heart of the show. We want the audience to see why each character makes their choices and how they handle the outcomes.
IF YOU GO:
June 1-June 23
New Century Theatre
615 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
For more information and tickets, call 1.800.982.2787 or visit online.