‘Sunset Blvd.’ comes to Oak Lawn stage
Julie Spencer is ready for her close-up.
Spencer plays Nora Desmond, the faded star of silent movies and one of the key characters in “Sunset Blvd.”
The Oak Lawn Park District Theatre production of the musical — based on the 1950 movie of the same name, directed by Billy Wilder — begins a two-week run Friday night at the Oak View Center, 4625 W. 110th St., Oak Lawn.
Portraying Nora, a role which won Gloria Swanson an Oscar nomination, is a tough task. But it’s a role Spencer, with many musicals on her resume, is eager to take on.
“Nora is very interesting to play. The range of her emotions are semi-bipolar. It’s a great role to play. Obviously, you don’t want to copy Gloria Swanson or even Glenn Close, who played Nora on Broadway, but it’s fun making the role my own,” Spencer said.
She’s playing a woman 10 years her senior.
“It’s a bit of a challenge. Actually, (assistant director) Brad (Kisner) did my makeup for the publicity photos and he did an awesome job. Cast members walking past me didn’t know who I was. He did a real good job of aging me,” Spencer said.
Nora’s love interest in the show, struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis, is played by Graig Mason, of Bolingbrook, whose day job is assistant principal at Nathan Hale Middle School in Crestwood.
Mason is enjoying the complex role of Joe and doesn’t mind sharing the spotlight.
“Julie is a phenomenal talent. If I could sing like Julie for the rest of my life I’d be very happy. It’s a joy to be able to have the best seat in the house, watching Julie sing,” he said.
The role of Joe was played by William Holden in the movie. Like Swanson, Holden was nominated for an Oscar.
“It’s a very different type of role,” Mason said. “You have to act through all the songs. It’s a different type of challenge. It’s been a fun challenge.”
For those unfamiliar with the story, Joe winds up taking refuge in a Sunset Boulevard mansion home of Desmond, who lives in a fantasy world based heavily on her past glories as a star of silent movies.
“It’s a great acting portrayal, but those Andrew Lloyd Webber variations on the theme, on top of all of that, and singing through the story line, that’s what is the fun part of the job,” Mason said.
Joe is basically a kept man who becomes accustomed to living in the lap of luxury, but at such a steep price.
“It’s fun exploring how Joe is sometimes questioning his own sanity. You surround yourself with crazy so much, you find yourself asking, ‘Maybe this is all normal and I’m the crazy one?’ ” Mason said.
In a story filled with secrets, even the butler, Max, has a few of his own.
“It’s wonderful. It’s great to have a secret,” said Gerry Dedera, who plays Max. “In many ways, he’s the glue for Nora.”
The movie, released 63 years ago, has held up well, he said. The same goes for the musical, which opened in London in 1993 and won the Tony Award in 1994 on Broadway. A traveling production played in Chicago about 15 years ago.
“Like any well-written piece, there always will be surprises, there’s always nuances or things you didn’t notice and hadn’t thought of before,” Dedera said.
Dedera, who last appeared on stage in Oak Lawn about 15 years ago, has remained busy in theater productions.
The role of Max “and the people here” were too strong to ignore,” he said. So was the chance to work with Oak Lawn Theatre mainstay Paul Nirchi, who is directing and producing “Sunset Blvd.”
“It’s interesting because most musicals have a happy ending. Now we’re doing two in a row, ‘West Side Story’ and this, that are more tragic,” Dedera said.
Tickets are $22 for adults, $21 for age 60 and over, and $21 for age 12 and under. Show times are 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Nov. 22 and Nov. 23, and 3 p.m. Sunday and Nov. 24. For more information, call (708) 857-2200.