WHO'S WHO IN MEDIA'S SUNSET BOULEVARD: SEAN THOMPSON

This is the second in our special Who’s Who in The Media Theatre’s production of Sunset Boulevard series. With each of these features, we meet a cast member who assists director Jesse Cline in bringing this Tony winning musical to the stage. It is a Philadelphia professional premiere starring Tony nominee Ann Crumb as Norma Desmond, the silent screen star aching for a return to motion picture glory. It’s based on Billy Wilder’s legendary cinematic classic with a memorable score from Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Sean Thompson plays the role of Joe Gillis. Sean has been seen several times on The Media Theatre stage. Last season he was one of the four young men in the popular production “Forever Plaid” and was also seen in “Dr. Dolittle”.

Sean Thompson who portrays the role of Joe Gillis 


All in all, Thompson has done nearly 40 professional productions in regional theatres in Pennsylvania, New York, Kansas, Missouri, California, and the Virginia/ DC area. He has appeared as Lancelot in Camelot, Curly in Oklahoma, Willy in I Married An Angel, and Cinderella’s Prince in Into The Woods. He has appeared at the Tony winning Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA where he also performed in Sunset Boulevard as Artie Green.

In The Media Theatre’s production, Thompson is playing the leading role of Joe Gillis. “He’s the struggling screenwriter whom Norma Desmond draws close into her own world,” he explained. “He began to crave money after a bit of success so his creativity—and hence his artistry and career—began to suffer. So the offer Norma gives him is initially appealing.”

Thompson enjoys playing the role made famous by William Holden in the 1950 film and sees a similarity between himself and Joe Gillis. “I, like Joe, attempt to pay my bills and get on in life by practicing my art as a career,” he said. “That’s a challenging task!”

Of Webber’s take on the film noir classic, he says, “The score was clearly written with the music of old Hollywood movies in mind, so it’s grand, sweeping, and quite majestic. Webber is a master at writing his scores specifically for the world of the show. One thinks of the soaring, operatic quality of The Phantom of The Opera.”

Time Magazine actually refers to Webber’s Sunset Boulevard work as his ‘most artfully constructed score’. “It’s a perfect story for a musical,” Thompson said. “The psyches are deep, the emotions are high, and the relationships themselves seem to sing.”

As the world of cinema has transformed itself over the years, the same has been happening with the world of theatre. Thompson’s take on it is that “Musical theatre moved away from the standard 'book' of shows like Oklahoma! and, say, Cabaret.  It was morphed into a sung-through, operetta look-a-like in the 80s and 90s with shows like Miss Saigon and The Phantom of the Opera.  We need to keep in mind that strong books are not only nice perks to a show, they are essential. As the masterful Stephen Sondheim teaches, the music must serve the story.  The Broadway musical version of the Irish movie Once has achieved it: a beautiful, touching score accompanying a touching, well-written, stunning book.”

“This is why Sunset Boulevard works as a musical,” he said. “It’s got a strong book based on the film with each song moving the story forward as the narrative flows to its dramatic climax as Norma gets ‘ready for her close up’.”

If he had been a silent film star, Thompson explains that he would have connected with his audiences using his physical characteristics, of course. “It would have been with my EYES! And with my facial hair, I think,” he said. “Facial hair on a man says a lot about his role. Is he a sinister villain with a thin, dark goatee? Or a young hopeful romantic whose face is bright and clean-shaven?”

Thompson sums it up by saying “Sunset Boulevard is a unique story.  It's a backstage look at the medium we admire so much: the movies.
 It's about what can happen when fame fades. But it’s fun to behold, as it has fantastic music and dynamic performers whose portrayals are guaranteed to stick in an audience's mind for some time to come.”


The show is produced by Media Music Theatre Company, the non-profit professional music theatre organization which produces the Broadway Series of musicals each season at The Media Theatre. It received Broadway World’s “Best Theatre Company of Philadelphia” honor in 2012 and 2013.

For tickets to Sunset Boulevard, which runs April 16-May 18, visit mediatheatre.org or call 610-891-0100.







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