‘Sunset’ opening at Timber Lake Playhouse.
By Sue Langenberg

It was a stunning VIP Opening Night last evening at Timber Lake Playhouse as it launched a rousing 50th season anniversary. On hand to celebrate were special guests and dreams come true all around as the summer stock organization presented the musical “Sunset Boulevard.”
There was lots of reminiscing about the TLP dream that began in ’61 as two men, Andrew Bro and Donald Mackey, brainstormed about a summer theatre in the boonies. The two began underneath a tree at the former Shimer College of Mt. Carroll and never stopped realizing this cultural phenomenon that continues to grow into a theatre destination from near and far. On hand as a special cast member playing the role of Cecil B. DeMille in ‘Sunset’ was Bro himself, as well as honored family members of Donald Mackay in the audience.
A congratulatory message from the White House also buoyed the spirits as President Barack Obama sent encouraging remarks about the success of the theatre.
This season marks the second year for Jim Beaudry as artistic director. The choreographer/director proved last year that his energy, talent and theatrical gifts proved an exceptional asset to TLP’s success.
“Sunset Boulevard” is based on the film of 1950 by the same title, with lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The story revolves around fading silent film star Norma Desmond whose eccentricities delude herself into thinking that she can revive a comeback and adoring fans. She resides in a dilapidated mansion in her own world where she has written a dysfunctional script of “Salome.”
The musical is heavily laden with more lyrics than dialogue or dance. Moreover, the minor keys seem to wander in and out of the songs so that there is always a hint of darkened dysfunctions and sadness. Musical director Travis Horton was a strong alliance with the cast about mastering a difficult score. Set designer Amanda Sweger also took full creative advantage of TLP’s rotating stage to move along a story with texture and seamless changes. Lighting by Michael Stanfill also fulfilled a role as a descriptive character in itself.
The role of Norma was played by Katherine Condit, a strong presence whose credits have taken her to Broadway, Vienna/Zurich, Canada and back to Chicago for many shows. While she may seem slight in build, she took this role far with imposing vocal strength and dazzling delivery. She had the right sauce for the character of portraying ego-driven melancholy and histrionic downfalls.
Handsome returning actor Brandon Ford plays the role of unknown writer Joe Gillis who chances by happenstance to cross paths with Norma, and becomes tangled in her world of money and fame. His attention to Betty Schaefer by Colleen Johnson throws a wrench into all relationships. Her vocal accomplishment was delightful, especially when she targeted her pitch on the money at the beginning of “”Two Much in Love To Care” in the second act.
Elsewhere in the cast was Max Von Mayerling by returning TLP actor John Chase who takes the trusted and loyal servant pacing across the stage with nose in the air, and delightful voice. Also returning is actor Tyler Smith, always funny from the moment he appears on stage after proving himself as Mary Sunshine in “Chicago” last season.
The resident performers also include Dryden Meints, Andrew Harth, Aaron Conklin, Kelsey Andres, Sophie Brown, Patrick Connaghan, Henry McGinniss, Julia Mitchell, Grant Drager, Cody Canyon, Daryn Harrell, Alexandrea Palkovic, Erica Vlahinos and Katie Wesler. All will be fun to watch as they assume other roles throughout the season.
As each season’s performing company seems to have an outstanding characteristic beyond basic talents, Beaudry comments that this one is “more focused,” and makes his job easier because each cast member seems to soak up the task at hand quickly. It was a mere 12 days from the onset of rehearsals to put this show together, he noted.
“Sunset Boulevard” opens tonight and runs through Sunday June 12 at Timber Lake Playhouse. Tuesday, Wednesday, Sunday and Wednesday matinees at 2 p.m. Sunday matinee at 2 p.m., Sunday June 5 evening performance at 6:30 p.m. (No shows on Monday) The Mt. Carroll boonies are a hop, skip and a jump to 8215 Black Oak Road. Call the box office at (815) 244-2035 or www.timberlakeplayhouse.org for tickets, group rates and more information.