August 3 - 20
- CAST & CREATIVE
“And now, Mr. DeMille, I am ready for my close-up!” Winner of 7 Tony Awards, Sunset Boulevard, is a haunting musical depicting the glamour of 1949 Hollywood, when a silent screen legend, living alone in her decaying mansion, entertains a young screenwriter bringing the promise of renewed stardom. With such stunning songs as “With One Look”, “As If We Never Said Goodbye” and “Perfect Year”, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s romantic tragedy is a mesmerizing tale of revenge. “This time I’m staying, I’m staying for good; I’ll be back where I was born to be. With one look, I’ll be me!”
|LONI ACKERMAN (Norma Desmond) turned 19 years old while making her Broadway debut in George M! She went on to appear in leading roles on Broadway including, Evita, Cats, So Long 174th Street, The Magic Show, and No No Nanette. She is proud to work with such an exciting team of cast and crew during her Gateway debut in Sunset Boulevard. Most recently Loni was a Member of the Marvell Rep Companyin New York City (Artistic Director Lenny Lebowitz). Loni is married to Broadway sound designer Steve Canyon Kennedy and together have two sons- Jack and George. This performance is dedicated to the late Tony Stevens.|
|NATHAN ANDERSON (Salesman,Ensemble) is thrilled to be returning to the Gateway Playhouse. Previously with Gateway he was in the ensemble of A Christmas Carol and understudied Mr. Fezziwig/Jacob Marley. Regional and tour credits as follows: The Mayor of Whoville, in Seussical the Musical, Marcelus Washburn, in The Music Man, and Mr. Fezziwig in the tour of Scrooge the Musical! with the New York Stage Originals. He would like to dedicate this show to Booch, and the Candices! Here’s to saying ‘Yes’ to the Universe!|
|DEREK BASTHEMER (Salesman, Ensemble) Derek’s love of Wisconsin cheese is only eclipsed by his passion for musical theater. A Manhattan School of Music graduate, he is thrilled to make his Gateway Playhouse debut with Sunset Boulevard and Sweeney Todd. Additional studies: The New England Conservatory and HB Studio. A big thanks to his friends, teachers and especially his family for their support and love.|
|GAIL BENNETT (Betty Schaefer) Played the title role in Mary Poppins over 65 times on the National Tour and Usherette/ Lickme Bite-me in the Las Vegas company of Mel Brooks’ The Producers. Other regional favorites: Eliza (My Fair Lady opposite Tony winner Jefferson Mays), Maria (The Sound Of Music), Janet (The Drowsy Chaperone), Irene (Hello, Dolly), Claudia (NINE), Annie (Annie, Get Your Gun), Jellylorum (Cats). Gail has also starred in several feature films, adores voice-over work, speaks French, and runs marathons.|
|KRISTINE BENNETT (Doctor, Ensemble)is thrilled to be returning to Gateway after appearing as a Silly Girl in 2008’s production of Beauty and the Beast. Earlier this year Kristine was on the National Tour of The Music Man. Other favorite credits include: Oklahoma (Ocean City Theatre Company and LaComedia), The Fantasticks and A Fireside Christmas (The Fireside Theatre), and Miracle on 34th Street (Jersey Shore Productions.) Kristine is a graduate of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. Thanks to the Gateway family and loved ones. Romans 5 1-5. www.KristineBennett.blogspot.com|
|PEYTON CRIM (Salesman, Ensemble) is grateful to settle down for a few months and perform with Gateway! A Dallas native, he graduated from Oklahoma City University before making the move to New York. Since then, he has been seen in The Music Man (National Tour), Ring of Fire, The Mikado, La Boheme, Oh Coward!, and Into The Woods. Thanks to his Family and Friends for their support, and The Waffle Cart for its motivation.|
|RACHEL RHODES-DEVEY (Analyst, Ensemble, U/S Betty Schaefer) is thrilled
to be back at Gateway after appearing in last summer’s production of Hello, Dolly! NYC: Mary Arena in The Human Comedy and Children of Eden (APAC). Regional: The John Engeman Theatre, Maine State Music Theatre, Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, and Forestburgh Playhouse. Next, Rachel will be shipping off on that national tour of The Lincoln Center Theater’s production of South Pacific. Proud graduate of Oklahoma City University. Many thanks to Dustin and Judy Boals Inc, and much love to my family for their never-ending support.
|CAITLIN FISCHER (Masseur, Ensemble) is excited to be making her debut at Gateway Playhouse! Regional credits include Magnolia in Show Boat, Lily in The Secret Garden, and Mrs. Crachit in A Christmas Carol. Other favorite roles are Eliza in My Fair Lady, Maria in West Side Story, Catherine in A View from the Bridge, and Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro. She received her Master of Music from the Peabody Conservatory and her Bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University.|
|KEVIN GUTCHES (Ensemble, U/S Manfred) is thrilled to be returning to Gateway for the summer! He was previously seen at Gateway in Legally Blonde, Spamalot! and in last summer’s Happy Days. Other Credits: 30th Anniversary Tour of Annie (Rooster u/s), The Full Monty (Ethan Girard), Mystery of Edwin Drood (Deputy). Kevin holds a B.A. in Theatre from Wagner College. He would like to thank his family and friends for all the love and support; loves those who support live theatre!|
|PHILIP HOFFMAN (Cecil B. Demille) Philip has appeared in the original casts of nine Broadway productions, including Into The Woods, Falsettos, Fiddler On The Roof (2004), The Scarlet Pimpernel and A Catered Affair. Off-Broadway credits range from All In The Timing to Yiddle With A Fiddle. National tours: Jekyll & Hyde (Utterson) and Titanic (Ismay). He appears on several cast albums. A proud member of Actors’ Equity Association since 1979. Website: www.1philiphoffman.com|
|JOEL INGRAM (Salesman, Ensemble,U/S Artie Green) - is very excited to be performing at Gateway Playhouse this summer! Earlier this season, Joel was seen as Warner in Legally Blonde. A recent grad from University of Oklahoma, Joel just finished the national tour of Legally Blonde. Regional Credits: The Who’s Tommy (Lover), Jesus Christ Superstar (Bartholomew), Bye Bye Birdie (Conrad), Noises Off (Tim), Little Me, Fiddler on the Roof, Chess. Special thanks to my amazing Parents, Family, Friends, and MTXers for all their love and support!|
|ROBERT ANTHONY JONES (Manfred, U/S Max Von Mayerling) is thrilled to be returning to Gateway for his very first summer season. His recent Gateway credits include double rounds of A Century of Christmas and Mr. Fezziwig in A Christmas Carol. He was last seen in NYC at Madison Square Garden in the National Tour of The 101 Dalmatians Musical, where he originated the role of Jinx Baddun (directed by Jerry Zaks, withchoreography by Warren Carlyle). He also originated the roles of the dresser/hermit/ grammer Canty in the hit off-Broadway musical The Prince and the Pauper, and can be heard on the Original Cast Recording on Jay Records and itunes. Regional favorites include: Max in The Producers (West Virginia Public Theatre), Amos in Chicago (Riverside Theatre), and Sancho in Man of La Mancha (Theatre by The Sea, playing opposite Bruce Winant, who he will happily play opposite again in Sweeney Todd at Gateway this summer). RAJ is also the host of a children’s television series, “Drew’s FamousMagical Jukebox,” “Sing A Long and Dance A Long.” www.robertanthonyjones.com|
|STEVE LUKER (Sheldrake) Delighted to return to Gateway for his 6th production, Steve’s been in over 100 legit shows from Broadway (42nd Street) to National and International Tours (Footloose, 42nd Street, Radio City) to Off-Broadway (the P Monologues) to Regional Theatres (North Shore Music Theatre, Goodspeed, The Engeman Theatre, Theatre by the Sea, Vero Beach Riverside, New Harmony Theatre, Mill Mountain Playhouse, Mt. Gretna Theatre, Theatre Under the Stars, Cross Roads Theatre, and many more. He was recently nominated for a Barrymore Award for Best Actor for the role of Sewerman in Bristol Riverside’s Dear World. On TV, he’s been a principal in such shows as “Cosby,” “Law and Order,” “Hope and Faith,” “One Life to Live,” “As the World Turns,” etc. and in dozens of commercials and voice overs. Much thanks to the Luker and Noona families, especially wife, Susie.|
|MATTHEW NOWAK (Salesmen) is a LongIsland native who is excited to be returning to the Gateway stage! Past seasons include Miss Saigon and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. He has worked on numerous readings, workshops and concerts including Rags in concert with Carolee Carmello and Eden Espinosa. Matthew holds a BFA in musical theatre from The Boston Conservatory. Many thanks to the Gateway family for this opportunity! And of course Matthew wouldn’t be here without the support and love from his mom.|
|ANDREW PANDALEON (Artie Green, U/S Joe Gillis) is honored to be returning to Gateway Playhouse after playing Richie Cunningham in last year’s production of Happy Days. Past credits include: City Club (Chaz), The History of War (Titus), The History Boys (Scripps), Laughter on The 23rd Floor (Brian), and Play it Cool (Will). This fall he will be at Northern Stage for Romeo & Juliet (Paris). Andrew holds a BA in theater from UCLA. Thank you to Bill, Ben and Jeffrey @ Peter Strain & Associates and most of all to Mom and Dad for their unyielding love and support!|
|JOEL ROBERTSON (Max) was featured in the Broadway production of Jekyll & Hyde as the Bishop of Basingstoke, directed by Robin Phillips, and the Movie starring David Hasselhoff, directed by Gerry Zaks. He was in the original production of Parade directed by Hal Prince at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center and received standing ovations for nine years in Les Misérables, six years in the original cast of Cats, both directed by Trevor Nunn, and played Fyedka in the Broadway and National Touring production of Fiddler on the Roof at the NY State Theatre starring Herschel Bernardi, directed by Jerome Robbins. He has been seen on All My Children as Mort Greenway, and thrilled audiences as Santa Claus in Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas Spectacular in Chicago. Mr. Robertson also performs in many benefits throughout the year and has been featured in Lincoln Center’s Meet the Artist series. With his wife and Co-founder he created ATC Studios, a Clifton New Jersey Non-Profit Conservatory (www.atcstudios.org) for the Dramatic Arts in 1990 and continues to bring vision and quality to those programs, launching the careers of hundreds who dare to dream.|
|ROBERT J. TOWNSEND (Joe Gillis) is thrilled to make his Gateway debut. Most recently, Robert toured the country with the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, and has also toured in the national and international tours of Mamma Mia! (Father Alexandrios), Grease (Kenickie), and Camelot (Sir Sagramore). Recent regional performances include Man #1 in My Way (Music Theatre of Connecticut), Thomas Weaver in The Story of My Life (Havok Theatre Company- Los Angeles Stage Alliance Ovation Award), Edward Rutledge in 1776 (Musical Theatre West-Broadway World Award), The Pharaoh in Joseph... (CLO of South Bay Cities), and Michael in Smokey Joe’s Cafe (San Diego Musical Theatre). Robert’s other selected regional credits include The Seafarer (Nicky Giblin-San Diego Rep), Thoroughly Modern Millie (Trevor Graydon-Sacramento Music Circus), Jekyll and Hyde (Title Role-Cabrillo Music Theatre-Ovation Award), I Love You, You’re Perfect... (Man #1), Anything Goes (Billy Crocker) and Miss Saigon (Chris). TV/Commerical-The One Minute Soap
Opera, The Chronicle, Tom’s of Maine, Time Warner Cable. As always, love to his wife Jill without whom none of this would be possible... www.jillandrobert.com
|BRIAN C VEITH (Salesman, Ensemble) is thrilled to be working at Gateway on Sunset Boulevard and Sweeney Todd. Originally from California, he feels lucky to be spending his summer performing near the beach. Past shows include Little Women, Ring of Fire, Follies, Annie Get Your Gun and Secret Garden. Thanks to Mom, Dad, family (both real and theatre), everyone at Gateway and the cast and crew. Marymount Manhattan College graduate. For more, check out BroadwayDemo.com/BrianCVeith. Psalms 103:1-5 Bless the Lord!|
|MEGAN WEAN (Dance Captain, Beautician, Ensemble) An Ohio Native and a proud graduate from Wright State University with a B.F.A in Musical Theatre/Dance, Megan is honored to be back at Gateway. Previous Gateway credits include A Christmas Carol and Happy Days. She was just recently seen on the National Tour of A Chorus Line. Some regional credits: North Shore Music Theatre, Ogunquit Playhouse, Maine State Music Theatre, Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre, Beef and Boards, The Palace Theatre, The Barn Theatre. Love to Dad, Kandis and Scott. It will always be for you Mom!|
|KAREN WEBB (Beautician, Ensemble) is thrilled to be a part of the Sunset Blvd. cast, making it her sixth show with the Gateway family! Recent credits include: Singin’ in the Rain, Jekyll & Hyde, Nine (Westchester Broadway), Spamalot!, Will Rogers Follies, Hairspray, Hello Dollly, A Christmas Carol (Gateway Playhouse), Joseph..., Cats, and The Producers (Beef and Boards). Making her journey from Ga to NYC she wants to thank her family and friends, old and new, for their continuous support and inspiration. Enjoy the show y’all!|
|CHELSEY WHITELOCK (Astrologer, Ensemble, U/S Norma Desmond) Sunset Blvd marks Chelsey’s seventh show at Gateway. You may have seen her in past Gateway productions Drowsy Chaperone, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Hairspray, Hello Dolly, Legally Blonde and Spamalot!. She was seen in the 30th anniversary national tour of Annie. Other favorite roles include Roxie in Chicago, Brooke in Noises Off, Ado Annie in Oklahoma! and Lois in Kiss Me Kate. “Love and thanks to the Gateway family, my wonderful husband Mikey and our adorable new additions Banzo and Chickpea.”|
|JEffREY BUCHSBAUM (Musical Director) Though Jeffrey is thrilled Sunset Boulevard marks his 20th production at The Gateway, he does not know where the years have gone. Recent work includes Man of La Mancha on Hilton Head Island, Off-Broadway productions of On Second Avenue (2 Drama Desk nominations) and Tallulah’s Party with Tovah Feldshuh. Tours include A Chorus Line (Europe/National), Titanic, My One And Only, George M, Damn Yankees starring Jerry Lewis and Phantom of the Opera (Europe/ South America). Jeffrey conceived and arranged Broadway Rhythm in Macao, China and The Magic Of Musicals in Athens, Greece. He also directed the National tours of Camelot and Mame, and is the composer of the new musical, Tupperwise!, which is presently in development. He has taught at NYU and LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts. Jeffrey spent this season as assistant director and dramaturg on the new independent musical film, Welcome To Harlem, which will have its theatrical release this Thanksgiving at the Apollo Theater. Jeffrey is a voice teacher and vocal coach in Manhattan.|
|DAVID ENGEL (Associate Choreography and Film Sequence Director) directed and choreographed The Andrews Brothers (Actor’s Theatre Of Indiana) and Forever Plaid (Moonlight Amphitheatre), I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (The Welk), Seussical (Moonlight). Other choreographic credits include Singin’ In The Rain (LA Ovation Nomination), More Magic (Canadian Tour), STAGE Benefit Los Angeles. He is an award winning actor, dancer and film editor|
|LARRY RABEN (Director) returns to The Gateway after previously directing Mel
Brooks’ The Producers. In NY, he directed last summer’s world premiere of Tony winnerJoe DiPietro’s Falling For Eve Off-Broadway at The York Theatre. Most recently he directed The Wedding Singer for Musical Theatre West. He won the LA Ovation Award for Best Direction for Singin’ In The Rain (Cabrillo Music Theatre). He wrote and directed Rodger & for Reprise!. A founding member of Coyote StageWorks in Palm Springs, he directed Greater Tuna (Desert Star Award Best Direction) and A Tuna Christmas. Other credits: Sweet Charity in Buenos Aires (Best director Ace nominee), Bark! (Inland Empire Award Best Direction), Always Patsy Cline (Welk), The Velveteen Rabbit (Promenade Theatre NY). Never Gonna Dance (with Tony winner Harriet Harris), The Thing About Men, and I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. He was the assistant director on the original NY production of Forever Plaid and has directed numerous regional and international stagings as well as Plaid Tidings. He directed and co-authored Hollywood’s Heyday (Welk) and More Magic
(Canadian Tour). Proud member of SDC.
|JOHN “JP” POLLARD (Production Stage Manager) returns for his third show of
the 2011 Season here at Gateway, having previously stage managed the critically
acclaimed productions of West Side Story and Legally Blonde – The Musical. JP got his start in the theatre over 30 years ago while working alongside the likes of Kaye Ballard, Imogene Coca, Cesar Romero, Betty Garrett and many others at Earl Holliman’s Fiesta Dinner Playhouse, in his hometown of San Antonio, TX. Since those early years, he has stage managed from the East Coast to the West Coast and everywhere in between. Career highlights include the seven-month, SRO San Francisco run of The Search For Signs of Intelligent Life In The Universe starring Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Lily Tomlin, four seasons at New Jersey’s own Paper Mill Playhouse, and an International tour of Grease which toured both Germany and Switzerland. In addition to theatre, he has also spent time as personal assistant to actress Sarah Jessica Parker. Proud Equity member since 1983. “My work, as always, is dedicated to my family and friends." www.johncourtneypollard.com
|ROBIN JOY ALLAN (Artistic Director) In her life bio, Robin includes 40 years performing, casting, teaching and directing, with much of that overlapping, taking her from one coast to the other and back. The films “When Harry Met Sally,” “Lord Of The Flies,” “Parenthood,” and “Ghost” are on her casting resume as well as one-hundred and thirty-nine Main Stage productions for Gateway. She feels blessed and hopes to continue to give back to the universe as much as she has been given. Robin lives in Brookhaven Hamlet with her amazing daughter Hayley and constant companions Lucy Dog, Mopsy and Momma Kitty.|
|PAUL ALLAN (Producer) has been producing the seasons here at Gateway since the 1980’s. Paul’s grandfather (Harry Pomeran) was the first producer of Gateway in 1950, followed by his uncle (David Sheldon), his parents (Ruth and Stan Allan), and together with his sister Robin. Paul has been able to work in NYC on various shows in different capacities, run a touring company with shows traveling around the country and abroad, operate a sister theatre in Connecticut, act as consultant and facilitator for the restoration and reopening of the Patchogue Theatre, and maintain a set rental business - where Gateway scenery is used in theatres across the country after appearing on the Gateway stage. Paul appreciates, admires and honors his family’s dedication to the arts and is proud to help continue the legacy. Paul lives in Bellport with his wife Annmarie and their 2 children - Luke 6 and Alexa 4.|
Loni Ackerman as Norma Desmond
August 14, 2011
Sometimes, whether it is an opera performance, a concert, a ballet or a musical, something happens that makes the total experience far exceed the sum of its parts. When this happens it is extremely magical, and this happened for me during one of the first performances of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s blockbuster musical Sunset Boulevard at the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport.
Let me hasten to say that the individual parts themselves are formidable. Loni Ackerman is used to playing big roles, having starred as Eva Perón on Broadway, and here she captivates and enthralls the audience with her measured and nuanced performance as Norma Desmond, a faded superstar of the long-gone silent movie age who reclusively and forlornly waits for a call from the great DeMille to tell her to return to her “adoring fans.” Norma meets penurious screenwriter Joe Gillis and sees in him her last chance for making her delusions about scripting a major film called Salome come true.
Joe is played by Robert J. Townsend and he could easily have been swamped by the fiery, tempestuous bravura of Loni Ackerman but his physical presence and great acting—coupled with a voice that makes you want to listen to him perform solo for an evening—makes this a duo to savor. One of the key moments of the show is when Norma and Joe first meet and she sings about what a silent movie star could do to her audience “With One Look.” From that moment on you could feel the electricity in the theater and the show just got better and better.
Again, this show is a total triumph of casting. Joel Robertson as Max, Norma’s one-time film director, devoted ex-husband and now butler/aide/chauffeur, exudes a protective menace and has a great baritone voice. Gail Bennett as Betty Schaefer, who falls in love with Joe while collaborating with him on a film script, shares several poignant numbers with him, especially in “This Time Next Year.” All the members of the cast have great vitality and energy and the choreography by Larry Raben, who also directs the show, adds so much to the whole production.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music for the show ranges from big production numbers, such as the grooming of Joe in “The Lady’s Paying” and the toe tapping “New Year Tango,” to romantic ballads like “Too Much in Love to Care.” Don Black’s and Christopher Hampton’s book and lyrics are pointed and well worth listening to. With most of the dialogue sung as a recitative rather than spoken in prose sentences, there is an additional demand on the actors. Incidentally, what a wonderful pleasure to be able to hear and understand every word the whole cast sang, something not often experienced with many recent Broadway shows!
The orchestra, directed by Jeffrey Buchsbaum, had great rhythm and adjusted extremely well to the various styles, and play a major part in the success of the production. The sets designed by Todd Ivans are elaborate and the Trevor Bowen-designed costumes (especially those worn by Norma) were evocative of the age and the contrast between the workaday world of Hollywood and that of the stars.
Robert J. Ackerman’s role as Joe has him on stage for the majority of the show, rendering it an extremely demanding one that he plays to perfection. But the evening is really a triumph for Loni Ackerman. Throughout the show she brings Norma, a sad, semi-delusional character, to life. You can’t help but be moved by this portrayal of a star whose brilliance has faded, an individual whom time has treated badly. The whole evening was magical and the show deserves to sell out for the entirety of the run, which ends on August 20.
In my nearly twenty years of watching Gateway productions and many more years enjoying London and Broadway shows, this Gateway evening will always remain as one of the high points of all of those evenings, when I enjoyed that special thrill that can only come from being part of a live performance by great artists when everything clicks and synergy becomes reality.
August 11, 2011
Sunset Boulevard wallops the emotions
A slightly mad silent screen star who once ruled the cinema, the talented, but struggling cynical young screenwriter who becomes her lover, a butler with a secret who protects his employer with a dignified reverence and the taut compromises and nuances that emerge with glances, gestures and song is the premise for Sunset Boulevard, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton.
Loni Ackerman morphs into her role as Nora Desmond with such force, you feel sympathy and sorrow for her. The song, “Just One Look” conjures up the magic of the silver screen at its infancy and her A-list role in it. Ackerman gets the poignancy and power of this fading woman and her voice is commanding. Robert J. Townsend, who plays Joe Gilles, the screenwriter who stumbles onto Desmond’s Sunset Boulevard mansion after escaping creditors in a car chase, wants to leave as soon as he enters into Desmond’s dark, elegant house. But Desmond’s surprising childlike neediness and Gilles’s reluctant compassion for her draws him in. He’s also without a job and money, and Desmond proposes he fix a screenplay she’s written.
Oh, the choices we make.
Townsend’s Joe Gilles is handsome, his voice is strong and the complexity of his situation is portrayed in a true, straightforward way. And Desmond is right to want him.
Joel Robertson as Max Von Mayerling, the butler, is a treasure. His understanding of Desmond is touching and his song “The Greatest Star of All” is a soaring recognition of the greatness of an artist, in this case Desmond.
It’s a drama to be sure, but a riveting one with scenes of a Paramount set with 1940’s hopefuls, Joe Gilles’s contemporaries, hoping for their break and moving forward. Gail Bennett as Betty Schaefer is a good modern contrast to Desmond’s in the past character; she tries to help Gilles get a promising screenplay he wrote off the ground. The ensemble is a delight with their youthful exuberance and hope and sense of fun. There’s even a Cecil B. DeMille character, Philip Hoffman, who eventually meets with Desmond, recognizing her former stature in a kind way, letting her down lightly.
If you’re a Turner Classic Movie fan, the set is like déjà vu and the 1940s jumps out. This production uses a filmed car chase that helps the film’s noir feel. The orchestra is awesome. There are organ strains in some of the scenes, a clever nod to the silent film era that used this instrument in cinema orchestras.
The wrong turns we make and the consequences are in here. But the musical makes you think as it entertains. In a nutshell, it’s riveting. Sunset Boulevard will be at The Gateway through August 20.
August 12, 2011
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.
Elaine Kiesling Whitehouse
August 19, 2011
The Gateway Playhouse is the ideal summer stock theater, with first rate, professional actors in a country setting -- and with low-cost tickets. And it is right here – on the south shore of Long Island in Bellport!
Opening night of Sunset Boulevard did not disappoint. The weight of this show falls on the talent of its actors who relate the story of the silent film star, Norma Desmond, a woman who has faded into obscurity and madness, and her collision with a struggling young writer, Joe Gillis. This Andrew Lloyd Webber musical with book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton is based on the 1950 film noir by Billy Wilder starring Gloria Swanson and William Holden. Since then it has appeared on Broadway with award-winning actresses Glenn Close, Betty Buckley and Patti LuPone. After debuting in London's West End with Patti LuPone in the lead role, the Broadway version of Sunset Boulevard opened on Nov. 17, 1994 and ran for 977 performances. It won seven 1995 Tony Awards, including the awards for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score. Glenn Close won the award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Norma Desmond.
Here at Gateway, Loni Ackerman’s Norma Desmond treads the fine line between genius and madness, with Ackerman displaying a genius of her own through her riveting portrayal of the once beautiful silent screen star. Ackerman captures the disturbing tragicomedy of her character when, in the first act, she lovingly kisses her dead pet chimpanzee good-bye and throughout the show when she conveys the deepening need for total control of those around her.
We all know control freaks like Norma. Their hideous pull that starts out gently – the witch in the candy house of Hansel and Gretel -- then becomes relentless and inescapable. Ackerman shifts and swings between appealing vulnerability and ghastly desperation. We watch her with joy and admiration as she belts out songs like “With One Look” and then watch with horror as she morphs into a controlling witch. Ackerman’s solid, strong voice fills the theater. Her rendition of Norma’s comeback song, “As if we never said Good bye,” is full of hope and joy, yet we know she is singing on the brink of disaster, and the music is full of portent and doom. The effect is spellbinding.
Robert J. Townsend as Joe Gillis is a tour de force as Norma’s love prisoner, a cocky yet hapless, financially desperate young man who falls into Norma’s trap. We see everything unfold, like Snow White about to eat the poison apple, and we know what is his fate. Once he is in Norma’s web there is no escape. Townsend has presence and gravitas, with a powerful voice and seemingly effortless grace. He convinces you he means business, that he’s in control, not just of his own performance, but also as a leader for others on stage. His nuanced expressions are most convincing. The “New Year Tango” with Norma toward the end of the first act lets the audience know Joe’s fate is sealed. He is bound with Norma is an ironclad embrace from which he will never find release.
Gail Bennett as Betty Shaffer is a sparkling presence onstage with a crystalline soprano. Her duet with Joe Gillis, “Too Much in Love to Care,” is beautiful and strong.
Joel Robertson has been in many Broadway hits, including nine years in Les Misérables. His portrayal of Max Van Mayerling, Norma’s butler, is grim, bittersweet, and heartbreaking as his love for Norma is revealed in vignettes and songs throughout the performance. His voice ranges between tender and powerful with an incredible range.
The high-spirited ensemble players were full of energy and talent. In the New Year’s Eve scene, stage left, their youthful wholesomeness provided a stark contrast to the gothic scene stage right, where the aged Norma frets and broods alone with her ever-faithful Max.
The orchestra deserves a special mention. Conducted by Jeffrey Buchsbaum the seven members in their small space produced a sound like that of a full orchestra. Some electronic enhancement was used, but it was not at all obvious. Todd Ivans’ set design was excellent for so many scene changes. The staircase in Norma’s home was just as beautiful as the one I saw on Broadway years ago. Choreography by John “JP” Pollard was superb. And the costumes by Trevor Bowen deserve mention. They were authentic and lovely, especially the Salome pieces.
So please, get to the Gateway Playhouse. This is a great way to see big Broadway shows for a low price in a beautiful country setting!
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|Joe Gillis||ROBERT J. TOWNSEND*|
|Max Von Mayerling||JOEL ROBERTSON*|
|Betty Shaefer||GAIL BENNETT*|
|Cecil B. DeMille||PHILIP HOFFMAN*|
|Artie Green||ANDREW PANDALEON*|
|Manfred||ROBERT ANTHONY JONES*|
|Salesman||STEVE LUKER*, NATHAN ANDERSON, DEREK BASTHEMER, PEYTON CRIM, JOEL INGRAM, MATTHEW NOWAK, BRIAN C. VEITH|
|Beauticians||KAREN WEBB, MEGAN WEAN|
|Ensemble||NATHAN ANDERSON, DEREK BASTHEMER, KRISTINE BENNETT, PEYTON CRIM, CAITLIN FISCHER, KEVIN GUTCHES, JOEL INGRAM, MATTHEW NOWAK, RACHEL RHODES-DEVEY, BRIAN C. VEITH, MEGAN WEAN, KAREN WEBB, CHELSEY WHITELOCK|
|Dance Captain||MEGAN WEAN|
|Joe Gillis||ANDREW PANDALEON*|
|Max Von Mayerling||ROBERT ANTHONY JONES*|
|Betty Shaefer||RACHEL RHODES-DEVEY|
|Cecil B. DeMille||MICHAEL EDWARD BAKER*|
|Artie Green||JOEL INGRAM|
|Sheldrake||MICHAEL EDWARD BAKER*|
|Conductor/Keyboard I||JEFFREY BUCHSBAUM|
|Keyboard||JUSTIN F. FISCHER|
|Reed I||MICHAEL KENDROT|
|Reed II||MITCHELL KAMEN|
Board of Directors
|Executive Producer||Ruth Allan|
|Associate Producer||Jeff Bellante|
|General Manager||Dom Ruggiero|
|Company Manager||Michael Baker|
|Director of Development/ Assistant to the Producer||Scot Patrick Allan|
|Administrative Assistant||Lauren Windsor|
|Artistic/Casting Director||Robin Joy Allan|
|Associate Casting/Artistic Director||Jessica Harrison|
|Assistant Director/ Assistant Choreographer||David Engel|
|Musical Director||Jeffrey Buchsbaum|
|Assistant Musical Director||John P. Murphy|
|Costume Design||Trevor Bowen|
|Lighting Designer||Doug Harry|
|Scenic Design||Todd Ivans|
|Sound Consultants||Dominic Sac, Cody Spencer|
|Wig Design||David Brian Brown|
|Resident Wig Designer||Trent Pcenicni|
|Production Photographer||Jeff Bellante|
|Musical Contractor||Jeff Hoffman|
|Box Office Manager||Laurie Parr|
|House Manager||Joanne Famiglietti|
|Box Office Staff||Beth Harrison, Nadine Hazard, Diane Koerber, Christina Montaldo, Don Rebar, Kyle Reitan, Francesca Welhous|
|Production Manager||Brian Loesch|
|Production Stage Manager||John "JP" Pollard|
|Technical Director||Mo G. Guiberteau|
|Wardrobe Supervisor||Marianne Dominy|
|Master Electricians||Rev. Jose "El Jefe" Santiago|
|Sound Engineer||Adam Shubert|
|Media Supervisor||Spencer Padilla|
|Scenic Artist||Keeley Dorwart|
|Props Master||Robert Bursztyn|
|Assistant Production Manager||Justin Hoffman|
|Assistant Master Electrician||Matthew Daurio|
|Assistant Stage Manager||Lindsay Sigler|
|Assistant Technical Director||Dennis R. Berfield|
|Shop Foreman||Charlie J. Bell|
|Technicians||Alix Claps, Mark Frederick, Don Hanna, Maxx henry, Greg Marullo, Elizabeth Nosewicz|
|Wigs & Makeup Supervisor||Trent Pcenicni|
|Wardrobe Assistant/Sticher||Natalie Ferris|
|Company Management Intern||Cassandra Levey|
|Assistant Stage Management Interns||Emma Slaney & Bethany Sortman|
|Electrics Interns||Keelia Liptak, Justin Michel, Kenneth Nicholas|
|Sound Interns||Zach Ireson|
|Wardrobe Interns||Samantha Abbott, Amber Mallon, Grace Czerniawski|
|General Technician Interns||Rob Brey, Max Fehr, Eddie Massari, Sean McConaughey, Michael Vultaggio|
|Facilities Manager||Mark Frederick|
|Concessions and Hospitality Manager||Blake Armitstead|
|Cleaning Contractor||Elio Sanchez, Maria Sanchez|
|Grounds Maintenance||HTM Landscaping Company|
|House Staff||Ethan Bellante, Julia Bellante, Ryan Hudak, Ajay Persaud, Jonathan Smaldone, Kevin Spellman, Ed Wacera|
|General Counsel||Ann L. Nowak|