Hollis Resnik is big, but the score stays small in Porchlight's Sunset Boulevard | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

Hollis Resnik is big, but the score stays small in Porchlight's Sunset Boulevard 

A great star turn can't quite overcome the limitations of Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1993 musical.

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click to enlarge Sunset Boulevard

Sunset Boulevard

Michael Courier

In a city whose theater scene is rooted in an "ensemble" aesthetic, it's rare to see a local actor given above-the-title billing, as is the case with Porchlight Music Theatre's presentation of "Hollis Resnik in Sunset Boulevard." But the marketing choice is apt in this case: it takes a local star of Resnik's talent, skill, and cachet—honed and earned over almost 40 years of memorable performances—to artistically and commercially justify a revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber's mediocre 1993 musicalization of Billy Wilder's classic 1950 film noir.

Resnik is excellent as Norma Desmond, the has-been silent-movie goddess who hires out-of-work screenwriter Joe Gillis to pen her comeback vehicle—a Cecil B. DeMille biblical epic in which middle-aged Norma plans to star, absurdly, as a 16-year-old Salome. Resnik skillfully combines camp grandeur and human vulnerability as the unstable screen queen. Billy Rude is the callow, amoral Joe, who becomes Norma's lover as well as her ghostwriter—an untenable relationship soured by Joe's romance with studio script editor Betty Schaefer (Michelle Lauto). Larry Adams is superb as Norma's devoted valet and chauffeur Max, an enigmatic man with secrets of his own.

Director Michael Weber's production is bolstered by atmospheric visual design by Jeffrey D. Kmiec (sets), Maggie Fullilove-Nugent (lights), and Anthony Churchill (projections), evoking a fittingly macabre tone for the story's gothic climax. Lloyd Webber's schlocky score is set to a libretto by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, whose best lines are lifted straight from the original movie.  v

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