Sunset Boulevard at Diamond Head Theatre

Mary Gutzi in the musical number "With One Look." Gutzi stars as Norma Desmond in DHT's Hawaii premiere of Sunset Boulevard.

Photo: Courtesy Brad Goda

Diamond Head Theatre presents Sunset Boulevard, directed by John Rampage. Based on the 1949 Billy Wilder film, the play premiered seven years ago with the highest advance ticket sales in the history of Broadway. With book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, and a musical score by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the play met with immediate success, winning the Tony Award for Best Musical of 1994.

Sunset Boulevard begins with a homicide scene and a promise from the unemployed Joe Gillis (Matthew Pennaz) to explain what happened. Previously a writer for Paramount Pictures, he begins by relating his unfortunate situation seeking for work while dodging repo men in Hollywood. It is through Gillis that we are introduced to Norma Desmond (Mary Gutzi), the show’s true luminary. Once the face of silent film for Paramount, the aged Desmond has since been forgotten, and deteriorated into a disillusioned mess as a result.

Gutzi nails the role. Norma Desmond is quirky. I found myself adjusting my eyes when Norma unveiled a dead pet chimp wrapped in cloth, not sure if I was seeing things— although I ‘m uncertain if it was my disbelief or if my eyes were momentarily blinded by one of the starlet’s sequined robes or gold-foiled dresses. (Not to mention the fur cuffs!) Her gaudy outfits and calculating manner echo Cinderella’s evil step-mother, yet her child-like nature won’t let you dislike her.

Gutzi’s solo performance of “With One Look” was one of the play’s most powerful scenes—an ironic piece, for, having lost her million-dollar visage, it is Norma’s deep voice that now commands the attention of everyone in the room.  The entire stage freezes during another one of Gutzi’s solos, “As If We Never Said Goodbye.” Desmond may be a has-been, but, thanks to Gutzi’s stage presence, she still demands the attention of a star.

DHT does a wonderful job adapting a $13 million Broadway production to the small stage. Their set was simple—contained to only a few backdrops, and believable. “This Time Next Year,” beautifully sung by a group of aspiring actors and producers at a New Year’s Eve bash, laughingly describes the (somewhat ludicrous) success each member of the ensemble hopes to achieve in the upcoming year. DHT inventively keeps Desmond’s home in the shadows of the stage, and the audience watches as the disheartened actress paces up and down her grand staircase in contrast to the optimistic youth at the front of the stage.

Notable performances were also made by Olivier Jodloman as Max, Jody Bill as Betty Schaefer, and Gerald Altwies as Cecil B. DeMille.

Diamond Head Theatre
Sunset Boulevard is playing September 30-October 16, 2011.
Box Office:  808-733-0274