It pays to be persistent. Signature Theater a.d. Eric Schaeffer has for years sought the rights to “Sunset Boulevard” from Andrew Lloyd Webber and finally received the OK — provided he use the original Broadway orchestrations and a 20-piece orchestra. The result is a mostly satisfying production that fills every inch of the intimate Max stage with the rich sounds of angst and opportunism.
With the musicians crammed on the balcony behind the stage and Daniel Conway’s intricate set accommodating an antique limo and rising grand staircase, it’s the heftiest production ever mounted by Signature. It’s also the first time the tuner based on the 1950 Billy Wilder pic has ever played the nation’s capital.
Schaeffer, an unabashed admirer of dark musicals, directs with a hint of self-restraint in that department given the film noir genre he’s playing in. This Signature production delivers on many fronts, an accomplishment considering the tuner’s well-known limitations that include a repetitive score and frequent groan-inducing lyrics from Don Black and Christopher Hampton (“I’m rich, not some platinum blonde witch”).
The cast is led by Signature regular Florence Lacey as the faded silent film legend Norma Desmond. Lacey excels when it counts most, especially her stirring “As if We Never Said Goodbye” on the Paramount soundstage and her sensitive treatment of the delusional finale. D.B. Bonds plays the cynical and struggling Hollywood scriptwriter Joe Gillis. It’s a challenging role with many vocal and acting demands, all handled with aplomb by the handsome tenor. Together, the pair strike gold with their duet “The Perfect Year.”
As protective butler Max, Ed Dixon is an authoritative presence with his rich baritone and humorless demeanor. Susan Derry’s lovely soprano and sparkling innocence capture just the right notes of Betty, the writer who falls for Joe.