Stephanie J. Block feels that after spending almost four decades in the theatre industry, it's time for her to take a turn as Norma Desmond in the Andrew Lloyd Webber-penned Hollywood tale of Sunset Boulevard.
The high-drama musical follows a silent movie star whose fame is slipping through her fingers because of the creation of talking films. "You have these emotional high points with this story. It certainly doesn't lack drama, it doesn't lack poignancy and heaviness, and you underscore it with Andrew Lloyd Webber's music," says Block of the upcoming production at the Kennedy Center, which runs February 1-8 at the D.C. venue's Eisenhower Theater.
A big score calls for a full, 20-piece orchestra, which Block's onstage counterpart Derek Klena describes as a "pinch-me moment." Klena sings the title song of the show as Joe Gillis, a writer who becomes involved with Block's Norma. "The fact that we get to sing it with a 20-piece orchestra...I'm going to put it out into the universe that we can do a recording at some point, because I would just love to have documentation of me getting to sing with these people," says Klena.
Also part of the cast are Auli'i Cravalho (Moana) as Betty Schaefer and opera star Nathan Gunn as Max von Mayerling. Sammi Cannold is directing the production, which she describes as seeking to explore "what [it was] about Norma's journey that was difficult because of what it was to be a woman in that time...industry standards of how thin you were, how many wrinkles you had on your face.
Between the score, the cast, and a story—which is still tragically relevant today—Block remarks: "If you love theatre, you're walking away with the grand prize."
See Playbill's interview with the Kennedy Center Cast of Sunset Boulevard below:
Based on the 1950 Billy Wilder film of the same name, the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black, and Christopher Hampton premiered in London's West End in 1993 and includes such favorites as "With One Look," "As If We Never Said Goodbye," and "Perfect Year." The musical has featured a string of legendary stage talents as Norma Desmond over the years, including Patti LuPone, Betty Buckley, Glenn Close, Elaine Paige, Diahann Carroll, and more.
The Kennedy Center company will be led by Block as Norma Desmond, Derek Klena (Jagged Little Pill, Moulin Rouge!) as Joe Gillis, Auli'i Cravalho (Moana) as Betty Schaefer, and opera star Nathan Gunn as Max von Mayerling.
They will be joined by Michael Maliakel (Aladdin) as Artie Green, Kevin Pariseau (My Fair Lady, Ink) as Sheldrake, Tyley Ross (Finding Neverland, Miss Saigon) as Manfred, and Paul Schoeffler(Sunset Boulevard, Rock of Ages) as Cecil B. DeMille. The ensemble will include David André, Lauren Blackman, Julio Catano-Yee, Colin Cunliffe, Haile Ferrier, Emily Harvey, Wonza Johnson, Aubrie Knapp, Ryland Marbutt, Lance Roberts, Maria Cristina Posada Slye, and Kristin Yancy.
The artists will be backed by the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra.
See the cast perform snippets of songs from Sunset Boulevard.
Sammi Cannold (Evita at New York City Center) will be at the helm of the new production, leading a creative team that includes choreographer Emily Maltby (For You, Paige: A TikTok Musical) and music director Ben Cohn (Dear Evan Hansen). Tyrone L. Robinson will serve as associate director.
Sunset Boulevard will feature scenic and projection design by Paul Tate dePoo III, costume design by Alejo Vietti, lighting design by Cory Pattak, sound design by Kai Harada and Haley Parcher, and hair and wig design by Tom Watson. Tyrone L. Robinson is the associate director, Emily Stillings is the associate choreographer, and Garret Healey is the associate music director.
"Our young team is especially thankful to be entrusted with bringing Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black, and Christopher Hampton’s classic piece to the next generation of theatregoers, in particular, from a new, female-driven perspective," says Cannold in a statement, previewing her take on the musical.
See exclusive Playbill photos of the cast below.