For two decades I’ve been a fan of veteran actor Lou Trapani. Even if he has a minor supporting role, I think it merits attendance. I marveled at his current role as the butler in Sunset Boulevard at Rhinebeck’s Center for Performing. Accurate in accents, dramatic timing of lines, and imposing stage presence, he appears as the consummate retired actor incapable of retiring. Trapani was stunning in his two solos as well as his acting.
It was a delight to hear the abusive hysteria and melodrama of Andrew Lloyd Webber distilled into salon accompaniment by Elaine Miller. (Webber’s musical is based on the 1950 black-and-white film masterpiece by Billy Wilder.) Jazz singer Barbara Rankin (who possesses a remarkable facial resemblance to Gloria Swanson in the film) delivers a flawless performance of a great actress deucedly immersed in her own deluded and unforgiving legend. Rankin rose to fever pitch in “With One Look” and “There’s Been a Call.”
Jim Nurre as Joe Gillis, the scriptwriter imprisoned in the actress’s golden web, delivers a solid performance, both in song and action. (He was more confident, animated, and in better voice during the second act. I could tell that he had a welcome intermission throat-refresher that loosened not only his vocal cords but body language—the manner in which men enunciate sibilants remains a telltale signature in this department).
As Gillis’ aspiring love interest, Niki Metcalf, as Betty Schaefer, possesses the voice to match, or even over-match Nurre, especially in their duet “Too Much in Love to Care.”
Direction by Kevin Archambault was conscientious, slightly more manic in the first act where the plot muddles with atmosphere (in the clichéd manner of La Boheme) than the assured thematic power and drive of the second act. Archambault is known for his abilities as choreographer. Singer-dancers were excellent on the first requirement yet weak in the second, although their satiric caricature skits were amusing. They employed the simplified one-directional tango popularized by our current president. Costumes by Lobsang Comacho display impeccable taste and exquisite tailoring.
Aidan Countryman head tailor actor was deliciously amusing, as well as Mary Kate Barnett who played Cecil B. DeMille’s secretary with mimic aplomb. George Allen was diffidently effective as the polite but scheming producer DeMille. Kolrick Greathouse as Artie Green appeared so friendly that one could not take his bland character seriously. When at climax Trapani utters his great lines, Rankin and Nurre should strive to make greater attempt to challenge him (even though that would be futile). Ensemble singing was well rehearsed, excelling in “This Time Next Year” and “A Little Suffering.”
The concluding scrim portrait of Lillian Gish, the first great film actress was apt. A meditation on the demise of silent films may not be attractive to younger generations more addicted to replicated cell phone images or 3-D fantasies of a post apocalyptic planet with machine-gun-assault-editing, yet the eternal verities lurk in this drama about acting. A good current example is the media circus surrounding the divorce between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. (Which one is living a delusional myth?)