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James Grana on AFD Theatre’s “Sunset Boulevard”

Sunset Boulevard final weekend

Sunset Boulevard has one final weekend at AFD! The words of board member and program director James Grana tell why this is a must-see show at AFD. Final performances are Friday March 17 at 8 PM, Saturday March 18 at 8 PM, and Sunday March 19 at 4 PM. For tickets, visit http://www.afdtheatre.org/up-next. Don’t miss it!

 

“On Friday evening, March 3rd I attended the opening night performance of Sunset Boulevard. It is being presented at my home theater company, Arlington Friends of The Drama in Arlington, MA.

The excitement as for what was to come on stage began as I stepped into the lobby. We were all greeted with our own red carpet. Audiences were invited to have their picture taken. Welcomed by ushers perfectly engaged and costumed as real ushers. The one thing that wasn’t available was the Hollywood Walk of Fame. No chance of anyone stepping on your name. The Box Office staff, the refreshment personnel, the lobby display, the many greeters, immediately made everyone feel warm and the feeling that we were in for a most memorable event. It isn’t every theater you enter where the excitement begins as you enter the door.

Greeted with a program: a beautiful cover design by David Foucher, write ups and photos of cast and crew, ads where organizations show their support of the arts and AFD in particular.

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Trey Lundquist and Janet Ferreri. Photo by Leslie Maiocco.

 

I had to let the program perusal take a back step as I sat with an open mouth, as I took my seat. There was so much to see and absorb, and yet the performance had yet to begin. The projections on both sides of the stage, the background music, multimedia with the eye-catching technical aspects all beautifully covered.

AFD has always had the reputation of bringing shows most people might feel “is too big a production to mount on AFD’s stage” or possibly too much of a challenge. Those comments have been proved as a “fake fact”! Successful productions as Sweeney Todd, Follies, Titanic, are just a few examples of AFD’s dedication to the arts and to our public.

The original Sunset  Broadway set design 20 years ago was overwhelmingly big, bright, rich and in a large Broadway theater. My feeling about that scenic design was it was difficult to concentrate on the acting and singing without being distracted by the over-the-top production values. Why? Focus kept shifting to chandeliers, set changes, upper and lower levels. It was disconcerting when you should be invested in the action and the performers.

The creativity of director Kevin Mark Klein brought us all of this and more. Kevin knows, believes, and accomplishes all with his heart and soul. His technical chiefs handled everything with the utmost professional and committed drive. The lighting design by Iain Bason assured that every area was used and intricate, minus any blind or dark or unused areas. This carried over with the special effects when a quick cut away from stage shifted to the multimedia design from Cyn and engineer Jeff Munro, via monitors strategically mounted on the wings at the apron of the stage. No time lapse for scene changes. They were nonexistent. Action kept flowing.

Glowing credits and much recognition have to be extended to the talented stage manager Robin Liberty. Hers was a herculean task executed with complete professionalism and exemplary knowledge.

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Alexis Kirkpatrick, Emily Morris, Trey Lundquist, Adina Lundquist, Dilara Eynula. Photo by Leslie Maiocco.

Lest we fail to mention the glorious set design by Mr. Kline, Gareth Williams, and Jack Rosebaum. The staircase, the upper level, it was a unique design throughout. Each and every aspect of the set were all wonders on their own. All set the mood with the immediate entrance to the mansion. We knew we had Norma’s address right away. The scenic artistry of Judy Weinberg for properties and set dressing, all assured us of an inside look at the world of Norma Desmond. Technically all avenues were exemplary.

The cast! Wow! Many musicals have a large chorus that are used precisely as a chorus. Sunset does not have a chorus! It has a spectacular ensemble! Here we have a cast where every single performer acts/sings/dances and is topped off with their own individual character personified.

Speaking of dancing, that artistry with the tango and waltz is directed by Eileen Herman-Haase and Raul Nieves. Orchestration for Sunset calls for 14 to 27 players. The amount of musicians permitted at AFD is 8. Musical Director Stephen Bergman has captured the essence of 8 players with a sound that is rich and full and extraordinary. All perfectly coordinated between singers and musicians.

As costume designer, Lindsay Hurley never missed a step in any of the many areas. The cast moved quickly from scene to scene, different characters, different places and different ages. Costumes and make-up worked closely and obviously together making all seamless. Kudos to Deanna DiSciullo Lander for hair and makeup creations.

Acting was phenomenal: Trey Lundquist and Heather Hannon Rufo as Joe and Betty, beautiful together and apart; Jim Ansart as Max, whose love for Norma was kept hidden with a stoic sadness; Charlie Carr as Mr. DeMille, who shows empathy to Norma at the studio; and absolutely every living soul that made this journey so memorable. Once again proving the old theater adage “there are no small roles, only small actors.”

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Trey Lundquist and Janet Ferreri. Photo by Leslie Maiocco.

Now to the Grande Dame: Janet Ferrari! Better yet, it will be a long time before I can ever refer to her as Janet. She is Norma, heart, soul, frightened, magical, heartbreakingly lovable. Whether it was the many up and down trips on the stairway (and I bet you will never hear her footsteps on any of those trips), this wonderful actor was always present in the most beautifully created designs again by Lindsay Hurley. From turban to custom couture, all meld with class, style and period.

Two very special women coordinated and brought all of these elements to fruition beautifully. Ginger Webb and Margie Hilton. What was surely an overwhelming venture was handled and executed with the most loving and experienced hands of these two women.

Well, I could go on and on. Instead, I honestly recommend that you visit “for yourself” and “see for yourself” the magic in the making. When I believe in something, I want to shout it from the rooftops. Rather than stopping everyone on the street, please give my enthusiasm a read.

Jim Grana

“With one look, they’ll forgive the past,
They’ll rejoice, I’ve returned at last,
To my people in the dark, still out there in the dark”

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