Sunset Boulevard opens at Palace
By Mike Morgan

published on 14:0 - 3/1/100

``Sunset Boulevard,'' starring Petula Clark The Palace Theater, Broadway at the Beach, U.S. 17 Bypass at 21st Avenue North, Myrtle Beach

8 p.m. today march 1 , Thursday march 2 , Friday and Saturday March 3-4 , 2 p.m. today march1 , Saturday and Sunday March 4-5

Ages 13 and older $50, $47.85, $39.28; ages 12 and younger $50, $42.45, $34.95

448-0588 or 1-800-905-4228

Because musicals, by their nature, attract attention for their scores, we sometimes forget how strong the plays lines between the songs can be.

``Sunset Boulevard,'' Andrew Lloyd Webber's powerhouse adaptation of Billy Wilder's 1950 film, is a case in point. Love him or hate him (and there seems to be very little in-between when it comes to the creator of ``Cats'' and ``Phantom of the Opera''), there's no denying Webber has captured audiences' ears over the decades.

This show, which opened Tuesday at The Palace Theater in Myrtle Beach, captures their hearts and souls, and grips and torments and accuses them. With a script and lyrics by Don Black (``Aspects of Love'') and Christopher Hampton (``Dangerous Liaisons,'' ``Art''), it examines not just the mad illusion of fame and the devastation that it can cause, but the nature of how we perceive and create the realities that sustain and destroy us.

The current national tour, directed with reserve and intelligence by Susan H. Schulman, stars actress/singer Petula Clark, and her amazing performance is the key to illuminating the deceptively simple truths underlying this complex show.

Long known as a pop singer in America, Clark has built her career around the world as a player of substance, earning accolades for her stage and film work as well as her recordings. She is a star of uncommon stature, and her interpretation of Norma Desmond, the delusional silent-film star obsessed with making a return to the film business, is a study in filling downstage center with dynamite and detonating it.

Most know the plot here: Desmond hires an out-of-work screenwriter, Joe Gillis, to edit a screenplay she has written for her comeback. Forgotten with the advent of ``talking pictures,'' Desmond lives a solitary, increasingly bizarre life in a crumbling mansion with her butler, Max, and quickly sucks Gillis into her rickety dreams of reclaimed stardom.

Working on a typically scaled-down version of a set that's become famous in the theatrical world, Clark had two basic choices for her role: the obvious, over-the-top pantomimes associated with silent-film acting, or the better path of playing Desmond for what she is.

And what she is, despite her mansion and a kind of glory comparable only to the pharaohs that continually strut across the stage during the studio scenes, is a woman, scared, alone and determined to construct a world so fabulous only she could inhabit it.

With straightforward, naturalistic emoting and an expressively interpretive vocal approach to her music, Clark imbues Desmond with a humanity so fragile it can only be overbearing, so manipulative it can only be heartbreaking.

She is helped by a studied performance from Lewis Cleale as Gillis, the Faustian writer willing to risk the inevitable collapse of living in a world not of his own making, and by the beautiful strength of Allen Fitzpatrick's Max.

``Sunset Boulevard,'' of all of Webber's shows, will be remembered not for its spectacle, but for its love affair with the dreams of movie life. A world of light and shadow is not glamorous, it is necessary; for we all fashion our reality from the spit and string around us. Our tragedies lie not in our faith in these gossamer worlds, but in our invitations to others to join us. The celluloid can hold only so much before breaking.

This is the tender secret of stardom, the ability to escort the world into such dreams without fear of falling. Clark understands this, and she is a magnificent hostess, murderous and lovely, and we follow eagerly.

Mike Morgan can be reached at mmorgan@thesunnews.com via e-mail or 444-1764..nf