Billy Wilder and Andrew Lloyd Webber do not seem like a match made in musical-theater heaven. On the one hand, you’ve got a filmmaker revered for his darkly satirical sensibility. And on the other hand, you’ve got the guy who became a multimillionaire thanks to people singing earnestly in cat costumes.
There are times when Lloyd Webber’s version of Sunset Boulevard clangs with the awkward collision of those sensibilities. The book by Don Black and Christopher Hampton remains faithful to Wilder’s story of Joe Gillis (Benjamin Eakeley), a struggling Hollywood screenwriter in 1950 who stumbles onto the estate of Norma Desmond (Lynne Wintersteller), an unstable one-time legendary star of the silent movies, and becomes her “kept man.” Pioneer Theatre Company’s grand production values capture old-Hollywood glamour, but the script initially seems to be on unsteady ground when attempting to eviscerate the movie industry’s ruthlessness.
Yet in virtually every Lloyd Webber production, there comes a moment when you realize that a certain musical theme has burrowed its way into your head. And there will be a song like “As If We Never Said Goodbye,” in which Norma’s all-consuming love for being part of the filmmaking world renders her more heartbreakingly tragic than mere words. That’s when you realize the composer understands music as a way to wrench new emotions from a familiar story. With Wintersteller and Eakeley providing a terrific pairing in the lead roles, the musical Sunset Boulevard doesn’t have to be a copycat of Billy Wilder’s style. It finds its own method of conveying the darker side of Tinseltown.
Pioneer Theatre Company
300 S. 1400 East
Through May 14