Norma seizes the limelight again in ‘Sunset Boulevard’

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BRONWYN Sullivan is no has-been – in fact she’s just about the most thrilling voice on the Canberra musical theatre scene – but she’ll soon be treading the boards of the Q in Queanbeyan as the most famous has-been of them all, Norma Desmond from “Sunset Boulevard.”

Bronwyn Sullivan's showstopper, photo Gary Schafer
Bronwyn Sullivan’s showstopper, photo Gary Schafer

It’s a role surely made immortal by Gloria Swanson on the silver screen, but later reprised for the theatre by Andrew Lloyd Webber (with book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton) in a tale that pits youth against age, dreams against reality and the screen world against the real world.

If the musical “Singin’ in the Rain” show the comedy in a silent movie star being made redundant by talking pictures, “Sunset Boulevard” is firmly in the tragic line, with the ingenuous young writer Joe Gillis being swallowed up by a world and a star he only partly understands.

In that world, full of theatrical gestures, swanning down towards the camera is a must, so Canberra publicist Coralie Wood has been rushing around town in search of the perfect staircase. She found it eventually in a private home on Mugga Way, Red Hill, momentarily reimagined by Wood and the show’s director, Stephen Pike, as a new home for the reimagined Desmond.

While veteran Canberra actor Peter Dark, greeted media guests dressed as Norma Desmond’s lugubrious butler Max, Sullivan treated those present to a rendition of “Sunset Boulevard’s” showstopper, the number “With One Look,” where the ageing diva offers a glimpse into her former charismatic appeal.

“With one look, I can break your heart/ With one look/ I play every part/ I can make your sad heart sing/With one look you’ll know, all you need to know,” the enticing lyrics go.
Sullivan told “Citynews” that she was having a wonderful time getting into the character of Desmond, but it was proving to be a demanding role, not so much from a singing perspective, but because of the emotional demands made by the role.

Now it’s time for director Pike and the musical director Sharon Tree to put the finishing touches to a production that opens in Queanbeyan on October 8.

If Sullivan has her way, there won’t be a dry eye in the house.

“Sunset Boulevard,” at the Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, the Q, October 8-25, various times, $56/$51, concessions, bookings to 6285 6290 or

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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