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Theatre review: Getting ready for ‘Sunset’ at The Q

Pauline Richards sits in on a musical rehearsal and tells us the plot

Last Sunday, with less than two weeks until the opening night of the musical Sunset Boulevard at the Q Theatre in Queanbeyan, the considerable creative energy of the musicians, actors and production members at their first combined cast and orchestra rehearsal could surely have powered the building. This could be felt simply by opening the door into the foyer where cast members were traversing their voices through music scales in preparation for the imminent rehearsal. Over and over their lovely voices climbed the scales, reminiscent of incantations sung in churches. Through the next door, the concert theatre was abuzz with the orchestra musicians tuning their instruments and warming up, Music Director Sharon Tree re-examining the score and production staff checking electronic and other essential wizardry, everyone intent on the work at hand. All good fun into the bargain by the look and sound of it.

It is an exhilarating experience to witness the creation of art and at the Sunset Boulevard rehearsal at Q theatre it was rivetting.  Once the cast and orchestra were assembled in the concert theatre the rehearsal began with everyone introducing themselves and their respective characters or instruments. The rehearsal itself was intense and concentrated, refinements of the performance discussed and applied on the spot. From my seat in the theatre the atmosphere was vibrant, collegiate, focussed and good humoured.

The musical Sunset Boulevard originated in 1950 in the film of the same name. Billy Wilder and Charles Blackett cowrote the filmscript, Wilder directed it and Blackett produced it. Gloria Swanson, a former star of silent films played the role of Norma. The film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, including all acting categories and won three of them. It is ranked by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films of the 20th century and was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the U.S. Library of Congress.

In 1993 Don Black, Christopher Hampton and Andrew Lloyd Webber adapted the film into a musical. Black and Hampton wrote the lyrics and Lloyd Webber composed the music. The musical has since toured extensively internationally. It opens at the Q theatre in Queanbeyan on Wednesday 8th October for a three week season.

The story is that of a neurotically self obsessed former star of silent films, Norma Desmond, whose career foundered when sound was incorporated into films. More than thirty years after her days as a screen idol, Norma lives in an architectural reflection of herself, a crumbling mansion on Sunset Boulevard. Her devoted former husband, Max, is now her butler. In a poignant expression of his love for Norma, Max writes and sends her fake fan mail, feeding her mountainous vanity. In an attempt to revive the glory days of her film career, Norma writes a poor quality film script, ‘Salome’ with herself delusionally in mind to play the beautiful sixteen year old temptress. An encounter with a young screen writer, Joe Gillis encourages Norma to engage him in the promotion of ‘Salome’ to Hollywood producers. Seeing the opportunity in Norma’s offer to appropriate her money to pay out his heavy and pressing debts, Joe accepts Norma’s offer as well as her invitation to move in to her home. The consequences of this very bad idea are explosive and tragic.

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