Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 9, 2013

Sunset Boulevard

Theatre Guild of Hampden, Wilbraham-Monson Academy
through March 16, 2013
by Walt Haggerty

...and now, "Sunset Boulevard" is ready for its close-up! In the supremely capable hands of Director Mark Giza, Theatre Guild of Hampden is giving this difficult Andrew Lloyd Weber classic a production that is amazing.

For more than six decades, the singular character of Norma Desmond has been a challenge to actresses of both stage and screen. Norma was a star of the silent screen - a BIG star. Now she wants to return. To tackle the role of Desmond an actress must have a rare combination of gifts, a credible singing voice, and exceptional acting ability, capped with the looks of a faded beauty.

In Anna Giza's performance as Norma, all these gifts and more are there, in abundance. Giza gives an unforgettable bravura portrayal of that faded actress determined to "return" to the screen. Her electrifying performance throbs with desperation. Her Norma reaches deep below the surface as she uses everything at her disposal to draw a complete character - her eyes, her mouth, voice, arms thrust upwards, fingers grasping, caressing - everything is used and everything works. Beyond that, she performs Weber's two glorious arias, "With One Look" and "As If We Never Said Goodbye" like a diva. Giza IS Desmond, and she is extraordinary.

Josiah Durham's Joe Gillis, a screenwriter who has hit bottom, grasps at straws for survival. Durham convincingly capture Gillis' easy slide into acceptance of the benefits of being "a kept man" until he suddenly realizes what has happened to him and tries to escape. Kiernan Rushford, as Betty Schaeffer, Gillis' new love interest, is a perfect young innocent finding that love has crept into what had been simply a "business relationship." The pair is excellent in their "Too Much in Loved to Care" duet.

As Max Van Mayerling, Michael Lorenzo is excellent; giving his character a taught, even threatening, treatment. The deft direction of the production permits even minor characters to have complete personalities. Sets and costumes are superior, particularly the endless series of hats, gowns and ensembles worn by Giza in a virtual fashion Parade of 1920s Hollywood style.

Theatre Guild of Hampden deserves extra bows for meeting the many challenges of "Sunset Boulevard." Bravo!