You might call SUNSET BOULEVARD a cautionary tale. Next Door’s production certainly is and it has nothing to do with the story. Director James Tallach tapped two extraordinary (Equity) actors, Shana Dirik and Peter Adams, as well as the talented Kevin and Shonna Cirone for the principal roles and they deliver. Having seen BLVD a few times, I can say they make an emotional impact other productions haven’t.
The problem at Next Door (playing BLVD through Jan. 24th) is timing. The principals were ready but the rest of the show was not. Why oh why would you make the dress rehearsal press night? And why, when the show clearly wasn’t ready, wouldn’t you call off the press until later in the run when it was?
The set was painted in gray primer with not a trace of the faded opulence that was old Hollywood. The famous stairway creaked like cheap plywood and seams in the wood gaped open. Bare flats hadn’t been painted at all so we had no idea what they were for. The script calls for Joe (Kevin Cirone) to gesture to all the portraits of Norma Desmond (Dirik) on the walls but the frames were empty so he pointed, poor man, to no avail.
Mind you, a few bolts of faux red velvet and some gold paint could remedy the situation but why didn’t it get done earlier? That dress rehearsal is designed, after all, to iron out the kinks so why invite critics to witness the flaws? The mugging by some of the chorus can be smoothed out. Wardrobe (almost) malfunctions can be remedied. The shambles of a set can be painted. And, had we not been “out there in the dark,” we would never have known about another near disaster.
The principal dancer (in the Salome ballet) had to be taken to the emergency room in the middle of the show when she lost consciousness backstage. Trouper that she is, she went down after performing the seductive dance of the seven veils. We didn’t know about it until afterwards when we inquired why sirens went off during the love duet. The show went right on, with all the performers who weren’t on stage, ministering to her and moving set pieces so the ambulance people could get in backstage without disrupting the show. Theater people! Nothing stops a show. There really are no people like show people.
So, I can’t say much about SUNSET BOULEVARD except for the superb leads: Shana Dirik’s wildly intense Norma, Kevin Cirone’s immensely pitiable screenwriter, Shonna Cirone’s heartbreaking love interest and Peter Adams’ tragically devoted manservant. And can they sing!
They say that a bad dress rehearsal means a good show. Let’s hope.