OLEAN — The haunting yet alluring life of the Golden Age of Hollywood is making its star-studded premiere on the Olean Community Theatre stage next week.
Performances of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard” begin Wednesday in the theater on South Barry Street and run through Sunday, Nov. 19.
With less than a week until curtain, director Minna Badanes said rehearsals have been going well with her exceptionally talented cast of 17 actors. Kicking off rehearsals on Oct. 2, she said they’ve been working hard ever since on bringing the show to life.
“There’s a nice mix of ages, even though predominantly this is more an adult show,” Badanes said, citing the more mature themes and content of the show. “The musical actually follows the original movie very closely, and the music is absolutely gorgeous.”
Based on the classic 1950 film of the same name, the plot revolves around Norma Desmond, a faded star of the silent screen era, living in the past in her decaying mansion on the titular Los Angeles street. When screenwriter Joe Gillis accidentally crosses her path, Desmond sees in him an opportunity to make her return to the big screen, with romance and tragedy to follow.
After more than 40 years directing stage productions in the region, as well as being a part of the OCT since its inception, Badanes said this is going to be her last show as the director, and she wanted to go out with something she’s considered doing for a long time.
“I really had to think about it and see whether or not it could feasibly be done — and done well,” she said. “First of all, it’s a very difficult piece, and we’re working on a limited stage.”
Badanes said the show is a powerful piece because it touches on subjects that are still relevant more than 70 years later, particularly the mental and emotional effects older women face when the entertainment industry leaves them behind.
“There was a time when you’d hit a certain age and it was, ‘Goodbye,’ no matter what you’d done,” she said. “This show speaks to that.”
STARRING IN the production is Sharon Myers, who said she’s done a few roles with OCT and directed a couple of shows but doesn’t have a lot of extra time to devote to theater. But when it came to Norma Desmond, and with so few big, complex roles for women in their 50s, she knew the opportunity was too good to pass up. Singing a Webber show was also a nice bonus.
“All of those things put together drew me to audition for it,” she said. “And for Minna, I hadn’t had the opportunity to work with her and at the time I didn’t know it was going to be her last show. To be a part of that and knowing the history that’s there and what she’s given to theater in this community was a huge draw.”
Because the OCT stage is smaller than a standard stage found in most high school auditoriums, Badanes said she had to get creative with the set design. She said designating certain areas of the stage to specific settings on the story as well as projecting the locations onto the back wall above the stage will help give the audience a better idea of where things are happening.
“The sets for the different locations are very minimal,” she explained. “We have no backstage area, we have no wings, so it’s a tricky deal to look like it’s supposed to.”
AS IS THE case with most of Webber’s musicals, nearly the entire production is sung through with music playing constantly.
Badanes has a full pit orchestra with about the same number of musicians as cast members under the direction of Pat Waldron, a retired music teacher who taught at Olean and Ellicottville. She said they have a lot of local musicians and teachers who have played for previous shows in the ensemble as well as a few newer faces joining the group.
“They’re amazing,” Myers added. “The music is so hard and we’re lucky to have them — lucky to have that talent around here.”
Badanes said the only hiccup along the way had been some of the actors missing during rehearsals because they were performing in other area productions during the past several weeks.
“We all pull from the same pool of talent and we try not to step on each other’s toes as far as actual performance week, but it doesn’t always account for the six weeks of rehearsal,” she said. “So I had to work around some people missing and only being a part of the cast for two weeks, which is tough.”
Fortunately, Badanes said everyone taking part in the show is talented and she knew what they could do before casting them.
“The talent is amazing, the music is gorgeous, the story is great and the talent is not to be missed,” she added.
Performances of “Sunset Boulevard” will take place at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15 through 18 and at 2 p.m. Nov. 18 and 19 in the Olean Community Theatre, 127 S. Barry St. Tickets are $15 each and available at the door or at oleancommunitytheatre.com. Badanes said ticket sales are already going fast and encourages pre-ordering online.