The ultimate drama queen, in more ways than one, has to be Norma Desmond, the fictional fading movie star of the great 1950 Billy Wilder film “Sunset Boulevard.”

A silent film superstar rendered a recluse by the advent of “talkies,” Desmond longs for one more chance to show her stuff and believes she’s found a way when a struggling screenwriter stumbles into her Gothic mansion on the famous Hollywood thoroughfare.

Andrew Lloyd Webber decided almost a half-century after the film’s release to make a musical out of this satirical story. And now, nearly 20 years after that work premiered, the tuneful Norma is once again descending the long staircase to give her public “New Ways to Dream.”

In the new Ogunquit Playhouse production, Stefanie Powers takes the role of the star who famously stayed big while the movies got small. Powers gave the requisite offbeat gravity to Norma’s grandiose self-image and kept the creepy/funny balance just about right in a role that has to resonate with any performer with as much Hollywood experience as she has (including a long offstage romance with one of the film’s stars, William Holden).

Dressed in the original Broadway costumes by Anthony Powell, Powers’ Norma was a haunting presence throughout the 2½-hour show.

The former TV (“Hart to Hart”) and movie star also impressed with a powerful singing voice. She was genuinely moving when she visited a movie set to sing “As If We Never Said Goodbye.” And her duets with Todd Gearhart, who excelled as the opportunistic writer Joe, were also very well done. “The Perfect Year” marked the peak of their unlikely relationship and was a major highlight of the first act.

Gearhart also shone on the title tune and in duet with his paramour Betty, played with spunky charm by Christina Decicco. “Too Much in Love to Care” was a knockout number for the ill-fated lovers.

Technical glitches were a bit of an issue on Friday night. Though it was the second regular performance after several previews, microphone feedback, ill-timed lighting changes and a lot of backstage thuds and bangs made for  distractions at times. But director Shaun Kerrison got a lot of things right in a busy show that encompasses 22 scenes and nearly a score of performers.

Particularly effective was the use of projected images to enhance the film-world ambiance of the show.

Top-notch players and musicians brought things to a level where such a vintage theatrical concept, once again, stood up to the test of time, even though poor Norma could not.


Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.