Theatre review: Short North Stage's "Sunset Boulevard" is schlock of the highest order

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

From Yiddish we get the term “schlock,” meaning something inferior or shoddy. By the time Andrew Lloyd Webber had composed “Sunset Boulevard” in 1993, his trail of schlock was already long, going back at least to “Cats” and “The Phantom of the Opera.” In staging Central Ohio’s first production of “Sunset Boulevard,” however, Short North Stage has transcended the material with some star-making performances.

Gloria Swanson was barely in her mid-50s when she immortalized the role of the washed-up, forgotten and delusional silent-screen goddess Norma Desmond in Billy Wilder’s 1950 film. There is nothing the least bit faded about the glamour projected by SNS’s Desmond, Gina Handy. She won’t expel memories of Swanson, but she makes about as good a case for Lloyd Webber’s music as possible with “The Perfect Year” and “As If We Never Said Goodbye.”

Taking the William Holden part of jaded and opportunistic screenwriter Joe Gillis, Chris Shea bounces between cynical indifference with Desmond and budding romance with Cassie Rae’s Betty Schaefer. Rae and Shea do more than rhyme with “Too Much in Love to Care.”

The deep and sonorous voice of Christopher Moore Griffin gets repeated workouts as he plays Desmond’s former director, first husband, loyal butler, biggest fan and chief enabler Max von Mayerling.

Michael Brewer’s striking set design highlights close-ups (naturally) of Handy’s face, with an emphasis on her eyes. Video projections by Edward Carignan help establish the time and place of scenes and assist with transitions. Musical Director P. Tim Valentine and his off-stage 10-member orchestra do justice to Lloyd Webber’s mostly unmemorable score.

It’s an open debate whether Lloyd Webber and his playwrights and lyricists Don Black and Christopher Hampton improved upon Wilder’s original. Beyond debate, though, is that Short North Stage’s “Sunset Boulevard” makes for schlock of the highest order.

Heather Wack photo

Garden Theatre

1187 N. High St., Short North

Through Oct. 19