When Chicago actress favorite Christine Sherrill was cast as the lead role of faded silent film star Norma Desmond in Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook's new production of "Sunset Boulevard," like her stage alter ego, she faced a mixture of fear and excitement.
"I was cast late last summer, and it was a role I hadn't even submitted my name for," said Sherrill, speaking by telephone Monday between costume fittings.
"It was the director Bill Osetek who approached me, and that's when I came in to read with a bunch of different Joes."
While Sherrill is stepping into the role made so famous by the great Gloria Swanson in the 1950 film classic by Billy Wilder, Osetek finally also settled on a "Joe," the role played in the movie by Bill Holden. Actor Will Ray, fresh from the national tour of "Little House on the Praire: The Musical," is playing Joe Gillis.
This new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Broadway musical treatment of "Sunset Boulevard" opens tonight and runs through March 24.
It's a magnificent tale of faded glory and unfulfilled ambition from the perspective of a silent movie star who longs for a return to her glamorous years on the big screen after being forgotten in the new push for "talking pictures."
As Sherrill prepared for her role as the eccentric and wealthy recluse, she said she sought advice from friend and Chicagoland actress great Paula Scrofano, who played the role for the first regional production, which was in September 2004, at Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire.
"I have to admit I wasn't all that familiar with the role or the story, since I didn't grow up having seen the original film," Sherrill said.
"The first and only time I ever saw the movie, was about 10 years ago. But because I'm such a big Betty Buckley fan, I did know about her doing the role when it was on Broadway."
Buckley played the lead on Broadway in 1994, replacing Patti LuPone.
And starring opposite Sherrill is Don Richard as her faithful butler Max.
Jeff Award winner Roberta Duchak serves as musical director with Jeff Award winner Tammy Mader providing the choreography.
Sherrill said audiences not only can expect an amazing set creating her character's lofty and palatial mansion as designed by Scott Davis to convey 1940s Hollywood, but also a masterful lighting design by Rita Pietraszek.
But best of all, Sherrill said she is enjoying the opulent costume design by Theresa Hamm.
"We've had about three weeks of rehearsal and I feel like my costumes are also one of the characters I've also gotten to know," she said.
"They are lush, beautiful and unusual, with lots of hoods, and of course, turbans."