Sunset Boulevard starring Loni Ackerman at The Gateway Playhouse Bellport
Oscar E. Moore “from the rear mezzanine” for Talk Entertainment.com
The Gateway Theatre’s production of SUNSET BOULEVARD is exceptional for many reasons. First and foremost is their casting veteran Broadway star (Evita, Cats, No No Nanette) Loni Ackerman as Norma Desmond – silent screen star. Ms. Ackerman is a perfect fit. She has the look. The attitude. The vulnerability. The strength. The desperation. The loneliness. And the voice.
Loni Ackerman has waited twenty five years to make her long delayed, well deserved and most very welcomed comeback. Taking time off to raise two sons with her husband Steve Kennedy.
“Not a comeback,” as Norma Desmond declares – “but a return.” She began six years ago doing small parts. Anything that would get her back on stage. And now she is back center stage. In the spotlight.
Singing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “With One Look” Ms. Ackerman sends chills down your spine as she relishes every moment of her triumphant return singing “This time I’m staying, staying for good. Back where I was born to be.” With this stellar performance we will surely see more of Loni Ackerman. Yes, Loni Ackerman you’ve come home at last. Your rendition of “As If We Never Said Goodbye” is worthy of the shouts of acclaim from the audience sitting out there in the dark. Now this is where Loni would say, “Oscar, enough of me. What about the show, everyone else?”
Based on the iconic movie by Billy Wilder, SUNSET BOULEVARD is not an easy show to produce. Especially in ten days. But director/choreographer Larry Raben and his creative staff have done a wonderful job evoking the period with terrific black and white vintage moving pictures and projections.
The costumes are quite elaborate for Norma and fine for all the other characters telling the story of Joe Gillis, a fantastic Robert J. Townsend who must be as strong and as interesting as Norma for this show to work. He is a star on the rise. A leading man who is virile, sexy and can sing and act circles around other less commanding men on Broadway right now. I expect a shining future for Mr. Townsend. They have terrific chemistry on stage together. She the cougar with her boy toy. Their “New Year Tango”
and “The Perfect Year” are nicely staged and the set sizzles with sexual tension.
As Joe, an out of work screenwriter who is escaping some goons after being late in car payments, he stumbles onto the estate of Norma Desmond who mistakes him for the undertaker for her pet chimpanzee and persuades him to stay and help her with her script for SALOME that she will submit to C.B. DeMille (Philip Hoffman) and star in for her return to Paramount – the Studio that she made famous. But he falls for Betty Schaefer, an outstanding Gail Bennett who really makes something of this thankless part. She reminded me of a young Emily Skinner whom I adore. Her boyfriend Artie – another discovery – Andrew Pandaleon - has a great stage presence and a wonderful voice. Noticing him as a standout early on I was disappointed that his part was so underwritten.
Joel Robertson as Max Von Mayerling, Norma’s butler and protector has a most difficult song ”The Greatest Star of All” and does it beautifully, rendering all his love for Norma.
A love that you will all share when you see SUNSET BOULEVARD. Be quick it only runs through August 20th.
www.gatewayplayhouse.com Box Office 631 286 1133
NOTE: Loni and I appeared together in DAMES AT SEA in 1969. We have remained great friends over the years and I am so very proud of her determination and accomplishments.
Making a wrong turn can sometimes be a good thing. I asked directions from someone at “PORTERS”. My instinct for finding a nice place to eat was alerted and after finding the theatre we went back and had a most delicious lunch on the porch. It was another wonderful discovery that day. Please go and enjoy the food and the service.