The Theatre Guide Review

Sunset Blvd. – John W. Engeman Theater – Theatre Review

Bryant Martin (Joe Gillis) and Judy McLane (Norma Desmond). Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

September 22, 2019
By Jessica Kennedy

Come and visit the infamous and fabled Sunset Blvd! Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music is brought to life on the stage at Engeman Theater in Northport from September 12th- October 27th. Directed and Staged by Matt Kunkel and based on the Billy Wilder film of the same name, this show will captivate you with its bittersweet story of glamour, romance, and tragedy.

The play opens with the disillusioned Hollywood writer Joe Gillis (Bryant Martin) struggling to find a script to get him through a dry spell.  When he finds himself hiding from a pair of repo men, he ends up in the home of Norma Desmond (Judy McLane), a legendary actress of the silent pictures age who is unwilling- or unable- to accept that her time in the limelight has passed. What first seems like a blessing, quickly turns into a curse when the complicated dynamic between the pair, which promises “The Perfect Year,” leads to heartbreak and ruin for them both.

Judy McLane (Norma Desmond). Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

As soon as you walk into the theater you will notice the ambiance is quite somber. Paige Hathaway’s scenic design captures both the elegance and palpable sadness of the show’s leading lady. While there are a few lighter moments in the show-particularly the ones featuring the fierce and confident Betty Schaeffer (Sarah Quinn Taylor)- the main focus of the story features an exquisite portrayal of a woman whose struggle with reality is equally painful and poetic. Judy McLane is truly fantastic as Norma; she skillfully embodies the full scope of her character’s troubled and fragmented actions. Kurt Alger’s costume design beautifully compliments McLane, and elevates the glamour of her performances, especially in “New Ways to Dream,” and “The Lady’s Paying.”  The mystery of this enigmatic star and her reclusive lifestyle are highlighted additionally by the presence of Max von Mayerling (David Hess)- the unwaveringly loyal constant in Norma’s empty life. The vocal performances in this show are packed with passion and pain. Don’t expect many upbeat company numbers, or tunes to keep you humming on the way home. This show has something else to offer- it will leave you feeling dazzled by Norma’s star power, and haunted by the ghost of a queen without her throne.

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Broadway World Review

SUNSET BOULEVARD at The John W. Engeman Theater

September 20, 2019
By Melissa Giordano

BWW Review: SUNSET BOULEVARD at The John W. Engeman Theatre

It may seem that productions of Tony winning musical Sunset Boulevard are a dime a dozen. But when it is playing at the exquisite John W. Engeman Theater, you know it is a must-see. Running through October 27th at the Northport venue, the show boasts a fantastic, affecting cast.

In the two act tuner directed by Matt Kunkel, we follow Norma Desmond living – mentally – in the past of her glorious career as a legendary silent film star. She has yet, transitioned to the talkies. It is a very moving story. She lives in a run-down house and believes she is still the toast of the town.

Judy McLane brilliantly leads the cast as Norma commanding the stage at every moment. Indeed a favorite of the enthusiastic audience is her rendition of “As If We Never Said Goodbye”. She makes a great team with Bryant Martin who portrays Joe, an up-and-coming writer who tries to take advantage of the situation when he end up at Nora house. David Hess is also a highlight as Max. Mr. Hess’ “The Greatest Star Of All” doesn’t leave a dry eye in the house. The entire company is excellent.

On the creative team, Paige Hathaway‘s set is well done. It’s minimal with several rolling pieces for seamless scene changes. Enhanced by Kurt Alger‘s beautiful costumes and John Burkland lighting, this production is stunning. And, of course, it is always thrilling to have a live orchestra accompany the cast this one superbly led by Musical Director Charlie Reuter.

Sunset Boulevard is an emotional show, but one of the greats to see. Again, we may see it performed a lot, but when you have a cast as good as the Engeman’s, it’s worth another look.

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Times of Huntington-Northport Review

Engeman Theater’s ‘Sunset Blvd.’ cast shines in iconic tale

David Hess, left, Judy McLane and Bryant Martin

September 20, 2019
By Rita J. Egan

On Sept. 12, the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport debuted “Sunset Blvd.” Filled with memorable performances, the cast members are definitely ready for their close-ups.

With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and book and lyrics by Don Black and Christoper Hampton, “Sunset Blvd.” tells the story of Norma Desmond, an aging silent screen star who is desperately holding on to her glory days. Set in 1949 and 1950, Desmond meets struggling writer Joe Gillis. The screen star feels a spark of hope in her reclusive life when she asks Joe to edit a screenplay that she hopes will pave the way to her comeback.

The production, based on the 1950 movie of the same name starring Gloria Swanson and William Holden, spins an intriguing web of seduction, unrequited love and jealousy. The musical’s culmination is a dramatic Hollywood ending.

Opening on Broadway in 1994 and running for more than two years, the show won several Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for Glenn Close. The production was revived in 2017 for a brief Broadway run with Close once again starring as Desmond.

The Northport version, under the direction of Matt Kunkel, is filled with a talented cast that brings the Great White Way to the North Shore. Judy McLane as Norma Desmond steals the spotlight the moment she steps on stage with her striking appearance, strong stage presence and sensational vocals. It’s no surprise that McLane’s a Broadway veteran appearing in hits such as “Mamma Mia!” (Donna and Tanya), “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and “Chess.”

McLane shines in her solos especially during “With One Look,” “As If We Never Said Goodbye” and in her duet with Bryant Martin, as Joe Gillis, in “New Ways to Dream.”

David Hess, who appeared in “Sunset Blvd.” on Broadway, is perfect as the stoic Max, Norma’s butler, who has been in love with her since the first time they met on a movie set. Hess’ vocals are fantastic. During the first act, he performs a beautiful version of “The Greatest Star of All” while giving Joe a tour of Desmond’s run-down mansion.

Martin is a suave and charismatic Joe on whom Norma sets her sights not only to work with but to be her lover early in the musical. The character also serves as the narrator of the complex tale. Martin gets to show off his singing chops in a duet with McLane titled “The Perfect Year” during Act I, and later in Act II while performing “Too Much in Love to Care” with the talented Sarah Quinn Taylor, who plays a delightful Betty.

Because she’s his friend’s fiancée, Joe tries to fight off falling in love with Betty but finds it difficult to resist her as they work on a screenplay together. The budding romance between Joe and Betty soon creates tension between him and Norma, which leads to a dramatic twist that seals his fate. Douglas Waterbury-Tieman as Betty’s fiancé Artie Green, Martin, Taylor and the whole ensemble, perform an entertaining “This Time Next Year” toward the end of Act I. Ensemble member Cody Gerszewski steals the scene at times as he convincingly portrays a drunk partygoer.

Eric Jon Mahlum is also a scene-stealer during the number “The Lady’s Paying” as the tailor Manfred who has been hired to make over Joe with a stylish new wardrobe. And during a visit to the Paramount Pictures studio, Larry Daggett, with his strong vocals and an air of confidence, captures the essence of old-time Hollywood perfectly playing director Cecil B. DeMille.

Among the show’s stars are the musicians conducted by Charlie Reuter and the costumes by Kurt Alger. The costumes encapsulate the spirit of the period, especially with Norma’s glamorous outfits. As for Paige Hathaway’s scenic design, it’s a clever one using sliding wood doors and a movable staircase that help transform the stage seamlessly from Norma’s mansion to the Paramount Pictures backlot.

The musical leaves a lot to ponder about growing old gracefully and the difference between true love and obsession, and the Northport cast of “Sunset Blvd.” delivers the iconic classic with grace and talent.

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