An ASR Pick! “Sunset Boulevard” a Stunner at Sonoma Arts Live — by Barry Willis

Sunset Boulevard ensemble at work!

Sonoma Arts Live has emerged from eighteen months of hibernation with a stunning production of “Sunset Boulevard.” The first large-scale musical to appear on a Sonoma County stage since the long pandemic shutdown, the show runs on the Rotary Stage at Andrews Hall in the Sonoma Community Center through October 10.

North Bay musical theater favorite Dani Innocenti-Beem shines in the role of Norma Desmond, a reclusive and delusional former film star who’s befriended, seduced, and rejected by down-on-his-luck scriptwriter Joe Gillis (Michael Scott Wells) in this Andrew Lloyd Webber musical adaptation of the classic Billy Wilder film, perhaps the ultimate depiction of a Hollywood love affair gone sour.

…stage veteran Norman Hall has a nice cameo as legendary film director Cecil B. DeMille…

Backed by a solid five-piece band, Innocenti-Beem and Wells sing their hearts out. Seasoned show-goers may not initially recognize Wells, his signature shaved head hidden by a stylish wig, while Innocenti-Beem is considerably slimmer than in her last stage appearance in “Sweeney Todd” at Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse. Wells convincingly nails his character’s hopes, cynicism, and failures while Innocenti-Beem moves heaven and earth with her emotive high-volume vocals. Also a skilled comedienne, she gives the audience a full examination of Norma’s delusions, exaggerated just enough to let us know how far off the rails she’s gone. It’s a terrific performance.

Dani Innocenti-Beem

Secondary characters are excellent too, especially Tim Setzer as Max Von Mayerling, Norma’s loyal-to-a-fault butler. Setzer is in fine voice, giving Max a properly guttural Teutonic baritone both speaking and singing, amazing in that Setzer’s natural speaking voice is softer and higher. Maeve Smith is superb as Betty Schaefer, Gillis’ young collaborator and potential lover once he tires of Norma. Stage veteran Norman Hall has a nice cameo as legendary film director Cecil B. DeMille. The large ensemble—sixteen in all—are very good in multiple roles. The music isn’t memorable, lacking Lloyd Webber’s characteristic melodic hooks—think “Cats,” “Phantom of the Opera,” and “Jesus Christ, Superstar”—but it works to propel the story.

Michael Scott Wells and Maeve Smith work a scene.

Critical quibbles: an overly-long bit of exposition mirroring the film’s early scenes, and a sometimes rickety set, but the show itself is exemplary, with just-right pacing, a welcome surprise in light of how long it was on hold. Director Carl Jordan has pulled a fantastically compelling production from a diverse cast.

“Sunset Boulevard” is a delight—and an entertainment bargain.


ASR Nor Cal Edition Executive Editor Barry Willis is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and president of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:


Production'Sunset Boulevard'
Written byMusic by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Christopher Hampton and Don Black

Story based on the Billy Wilder film
Directed byCarl Jordan
Producing CompanySonoma Arts Live
Production DatesThursdays thru Sundays thru Oct.10th
Production AddressRotary Stage: Andrews Hall, Sonoma Community Center
276 E. Napa Street, Sonoma
Tickets$25 – $42
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!