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Valerie Perri

photo by Ken Jacques Photography

 

Valerie Perri is Ready for her Close-up in Moonlight's Sunset Boulevard

By Marcia Manna
Digital Content Writer

The role of silent screen star Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard” is that of a larger-than–life diva who plots her comeback after years of seclusion.

It’s a part that actress Valerie Perri relishes because it reminds her of her own triumphant return to the stage.

Based on the 1950 film noir classic directed by Billy Wilder, the Tony Award-winning musical features a score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and includes the power ballads “With One Look” and “As If We Never Said Goodbye.”

Perri originally played Norma when she performed the role in Long Beach four years ago and she’ll revisit the character when Moonlight Stage Productions features her in “Sunset Boulevard” from Aug. 16 to Sept. 2.

“I didn’t go into hiding like Norma Desmond, but I took somewhat of an absence,” Perri explains. “I curtailed my auditioning for New York shows and concentrated my efforts on my family. Getting the role of Norma was such an incredible high for me personally. My mom was ill at the time and passed away right after the show closed, but she did have the opportunity to see me on opening night and it was fabulous. When I sang “I’ve Come Home at Last,” I was not only Norma, I was Valerie.”
 

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Valerie Perri in Moonlight Stage Productions'
Sunset Boulevard
photo by Ken Jacques Photography


Perri was born in Pennsylvania and moved to a Hollywood studio apartment in 1976 to pursue her dreams. Like many fledgling actors, she worked a variety of clerical jobs before landing a dance role in the movie “Grease.”

In 1979, Perri auditioned for the first national company of “Evita,” and though her name was missing on the audition list when she arrived, she succeeded in trying out for the role. She became the “Evita Alternate” and performed matinees for six months in Los Angeles.
 
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Valerie Perri as Eva Peron
 
Perri then won the role of Eva Perón for the Chicago production of “Evita” and toured with the show, along with her two Golden Retrievers, for nearly three years.

A professional vocalist, Perri also sang the national anthem at different sporting events when traveling from city to city.
When the show closed, few roles compared to the lead in “Evita,” the most popular musical of the day.

Perri started a family, moved to Los Angeles and performed in productions that “were not as glamorous.”

When she returned to the stage in 2013 to perform “Sunset Boulevard’s” Norma Desmond, she felt empowered by a leading role that demanded the range of emotion and vocal skill she is capable of delivering.

Perri bounced back, taking on an emotionally charged plot that includes themes of passion and betrayal. She also received glowing reviews for a vocal performance that ranged from full throttle belting to a whispered response.

The determination and sheer resilience of Norma Desmond, for example, is portrayed in the song, “Just One Look” and Perri makes her believable.

“With one look/I'll ignite a blaze/I'll return to my glory days/They'll say Norma's back at last/This time I'm staying, I'm staying for good/I'll be back where I was born to be/With one look… I'll be me.”

“I can’t think of a better composer to write the musical than Andrew Lloyd Webber,” Perri says.

“He has the ability to write a lush, cinematic score with melodies so pleasing to the ear. Everything he writes is so expressive and so much of the play is sung. There is a full pit of musicians playing that glorious score live, so you get swept into it.”

Perri last visited Moonlight Amphitheater as a member of the audience in 2012, when her cousin, Mitzi Michaels-Smith, performed in “Sweeny Todd.”

“The production values are fabulous,” Perri says. “It’s a jewel of a theater.”

Artistic director Steve Glaudini added another plus to Perri's portrayal of Norma Desmond, a character that must be adorned in lavish attire befitting a Hollywood icon.

"He insisted that Norma’s wardrobe be newly designed and completely built for me by local designer Renetta Lloyd," Perri says. "The costumes are breathtaking, with silk and satin bejeweled robes, feather boas and gorgeous matching turbans. There is no doubt that I will feel like Norma Desmond when I step onto that stage."