Sunset Blvd.: Out of tune in more ways than one

Sarah Gibson as Norma Desmond.
Sarah Gibson as Norma Desmond.
Photo by Laurie Etchen
If the first rule of musical theater is to be on key, than Minneapolis Musical Theatre failed in its job opening night.

Bum notes, mainly coming from the brass section, but also occasionally from the singers onstage, proved to be aurally jarring throughout the opening performance of Sunset Blvd. Even without that, however, the production would have to be considered a disappointment.

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The musical, based on Billy Wilder's classic 1950 film, features a particularly weak score from Andrew Lloyd Webber that indulges in the worst the composer has to offer: lots of dull repeated motifs and tunes that fail to stick in the ear for any longer than they're onstage. 

The book and lyrics by Tom Black and Christopher Hampton are adequate, but mainly leave you wishing you were watching the original movie with fallen silent-film idol Norma Desmond, her crazy butler Max, and down-on-his-luck script writer Joe Gillis.

A bad foundation doesn't mean an interesting show can't be built from the materials, but director Steven Meerdink and a hard-working company aren't able to bridge that gap. As Norma, Sarah Gibson brings the crazy needed for the character and Tim Kuehl is engaging as copy-editor-turned-screenwriter Joe, but the acting and singing by the company is a bit too variable for my tastes.

Worst of all, considering MMT has done absolutely mad productions like Batboy and Evil Dead in the past, Sunset Blvd. feels especially tied down. This is a musical narrated by a ghost about a crazy silent-film star who buries a pet monkey in the opening scene and lives in a decaying mansion with her butler/ex-husband/first director.

That madness rarely comes through in the performances, directing, or even the scene design, which is especially dull and staid. I understand that MMT has a low budget, but that hasn't  stopped them from pushing the limits in the past. This time, it's played far too safe.


Sunset Blvd.
Through June 23.
New Century Theatre
615 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis.
For tickets and information, call 1.800.892.2787 or visit online.

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