I am a big fan of The Palm Canyon Theatre. It is a community-based theatre with community at its heart. The casting and creative team is a mix of industry professionals with dazzling resumes (most of whom are locals) and "just plain locals" with a passion, if not professional aspirations, for theatre. And that is part of its great charm.
Joey English hits all the right notes as Norma Desmond. She pushes the questionable sanity of the former movie star right to the edge of believability without falling off the cliff. At times she seemed to be channeling Desmond and her very nuanced performance comes shining through. She was in great voice and truly has the perfect voice to sing this role --- in depth, in quality and in emotion. She moved through Norma's madness effortlessly with just the right touch of "camp" and her "As If We Never Said Goodbye" was her shining moment - and one of the show's finest moments. David McLaughlin (Joe Gillis) is a very talented actor and singer with great facial expressions, solid physicality and a strong singing voice. He brought great energy and passion to the role and proved himself a solid leading man with tremendous presence.
Three actors of note: Sarah Noe turns in a wonderfully honest and likeable Betty Schaeffer and transcends the "fluff ingénue" with a layered portrayal that is believable every moment she is on stage. Her presence lifts a scene and she is very natural in both her physical and emotional expression. Mark Almy's Max Von Mayerling is convincing and he has a lovely, trained voice that fits the score like a glove. His "New Ways To Dream" at the end of the second act was layered, subtle and emotional. Tom Warrick's Cecil B. Demille is right on the mark and provides solid grounding for all scenes in which he appears. His abilities help to lift the overall production.
The ensemble is uneven - some of the ensemble members have tremendous craft and experience and some are "first-timers" from the local community -- -but I applaud every member of the ensemble for their efforts. A stand out was Nicholas Sloan who came off as a quality "supporting player" rather than a member of a "chorus" and displays tremendous instincts for what works in a scene.
Judith Chapman has directed SUNSET with a steady hand and her staging is clean and effective. She has helped to develop subtleties in the relationships between the characters which is often overlooked by less skilled directors. It is not easy to direct a musical of such grand scale in such a small theatre but she has purposefully and successfully focused her attention on the text and the subtext, and her more intimate vision really works in the space.
Se Layne's costumes are first rate and one of Norma's outfits, as she visits Paramount studios, even garnered some applause. The scenic design works well for the small space and the use of video projection, even as backdrops, was a brilliant move and truly enhances the production at every turn.
PCT's SUNSET BOULEVARD is definitely worthy of a close-up. The energy and passion of the cast far outweigh any imperfections and, as I said, I am a big fan.
Joey English stars in The Palm Canyon Theatre's SUNSET BOULEVARD, directed by Judith Chapman, which runs March 8 through March 24. For tickets or further information call (760) 323-5123 or visit www.palmcanyontheatre.org.