Sunset Boulevard (musical): Wikis


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Sunset Boulevard
Original West End Logo
Music Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics Don Black
Christopher Hampton
Book Don Black
Christopher Hampton
Basis 1950 film Sunset Blvd.
Productions 1991 Sydmonton Festival
1992 Sydmonton Festival
1993 West End
1993 Los Angeles
1994 Broadway
1995 Canada
1995 Germany
1996 Australia
1996 US Tour
1998 US Tour
2001 National UK Tour
2008 West End revival
2008 The Netherlands
2009 Sweden
Awards Tony Award for Best Musical
Tony Award for Best Score
Tony Award for Best Book

Sunset Boulevard is a musical with book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Based on the 1950 film of the same title, the plot revolves around Norma Desmond, a faded star of the silent screen era, living in the past in her decaying mansion on the fabled Los Angeles street. When young screenwriter Joe Gillis accidentally crosses her path, she sees in him an opportunity to make her comeback to the big screen. Romance and tragedy follow.

Opening first in London in 1993, the musical has had several long runs internationally and also enjoyed extensive tours, although it lost money because of its extraordinary running costs. A star vehicle, many well-known actresses have played the leading character, Norma Desmond, and the show has seen its share of legal battles.



From approximately 1952 to 1956, Gloria Swanson worked with actor Richard Stapley (aka Richard Wyler) and cabaret singer/pianist Dickson Hughes on a musical adaptation originally entitled Starring Norma Desmond, then Boulevard! [1] It ended on a happier note than the film, with Norma allowing Joe to leave and pursue a happy ending with Betty. Paramount originally had given Swanson verbal permission to proceed with the musical, but there had been no formal legal arrangement. On February 20, 1957, Paramount executive Russell Holman wrote Swanson a letter in which he asked her to cease work on the project because "it would be damaging for the property to be offered to the entertainment public in another form as a stage musical." [2] In 1994, Hughes incorporated material from the production into Swanson on Sunset, based on his and Stapley's experiences in writing Boulevard!. A recording of the entire score, which had been housed in the Gloria Swanson archives at the University of Texas, was released on CD in 2008.

In the early 1960s, Stephen Sondheim outlined a musical stage adaptation and went so far as to compose the first scene with librettist Burt Shevelove. A chance encounter with Billy Wilder at a cocktail party gave Sondheim the opportunity to introduce himself and ask the original film's co-screenwriter and director his opinion of the project (which was to star Jeanette MacDonald). "You can't write a musical about Sunset Boulevard," Wilder responded, "it has to be an opera. After all, it's about a dethroned queen." Sondheim immediately aborted his plans. A few years later, when he was invited by Hal Prince to write the score for a film remake starring Angela Lansbury as a fading musical comedienne rather than a silent film star, Sondheim declined, citing his conversation with Wilder.[3]

When Lloyd Webber saw the film in the early 1970s, he was inspired to write what he pictured as the title song for a theatrical adaptation, fragments of which he instead incorporated into Gumshoe.[4] In 1976, after a conversation with Hal Prince, who had the theatrical rights to Sunset, Lloyd Webber wrote "an idea for the moment when Norma Desmond returns to Paramount Studios"; Lloyd Webber did no further work on the play until after 1989's Aspects of Love.[4]

At that point Lloyd Webber "felt it was the subject [he] had to compose next"[4], though by February 1990 he had announced plans to turn Really Useful Group private so he could "make movies rather than musicals."[5]

In 1991 Lloyd Webber asked Amy Powers, a lawyer from New York with no professional lyric-writing experience, to write the lyrics for Sunset Boulevard.[6] Don Black was later brought in to work with Powers; the two wrote the version that was performed that same year at Lloyd Webber's Sydmonton Festival. This original version starred Ria Jones as Norma. It was not a success, though a revised version, written by Black and Christopher Hampton "met with great success" at the 1992 Sydmonton Festival.[6]


In 1949 Hollywood, down-on-his-luck screenwriter Joe Gillis tries to hustle up some work at Paramount Studios. He meets with a producer who shoots down his proposed script as well as a request for a loan to bring his car payments up to date. He does, however, meet Betty Schaefer, a pretty, young script editor who proposes they work together to develop one of his earlier projects. As they talk, Joe is spotted by car repossession agents and he makes a quick escape.

During the car chase that ensues down Sunset Boulevard, Joe evades his pursuers by pulling into the garage of a dilapidated mansion. Beckoned inside the house, Joe encounters Norma Desmond, the "greatest star of all" from the silent film era who never made the transition to "talkies." Taken aback, Joe comments, "You used to be in pictures — you used to be big," to which she retorts, "I am big ... it's the pictures that got small!"

The huge, gloomy estate is inhabited only by Norma and Max, her butler and chauffeur. Although several decades past her prime and mostly forgotten by once-adoring fans, Norma is convinced she is as beautiful and popular as ever. She informs Joe of her intention to return to the screen with a script she's written for Cecil B. DeMille to direct called Salome, with her in the starring role as a 16-year-old temptress. Sensing an opportunity, Joe persuades Norma to let him revise the story in exchange for room and board.

Joe quickly realizes the script is an incoherent debacle that no amount of massaging could fix, but he keeps this fact to himself and the editing continues for several months. During this time he strikes up a working relationship with Betty, which blossoms into a romance that has her reconsidering her recent engagement to Artie, Joe's best friend.

Norma has also developed feelings for Joe and lavishes him with gifts, including a complete wardrobe makeover. She becomes quite possessive, and when he leaves the house to attend a friend's New Year's Eve party she attempts suicide. To placate her, Joe reluctantly returns to finish his work on Salome.

Someone from Paramount phones the mansion with a cryptic request. Certain that DeMille is eager to shoot her script, Norma drops in on the set of his current film. She's greeted warmly by ex-colleagues, and the director himself is also pleased to see his former star but remains noncommittal about Salome. Meanwhile, Max discovers it's Norma's exotic car the studio wants for an upcoming movie, not her. However, the delusional Norma leaves the lot convinced she'll be back in front of the cameras in short order.

Norma eventually deduces that Joe and Betty are lovers. She calls the younger woman to confront her, but Joe grabs the phone and tells Betty to come see for herself how he lives. Realizing their affair is doomed, Joe breaks Betty's heart by telling her he likes being a kept man and that she should go back to Artie. Joe then tells Norma that he's leaving her and returning to his hometown in Ohio. He also bluntly informs her that Salome will never be filmed and her fans have abandoned her. Furious and grief-stricken, Norma fatally shoots Joe.

Now completely insane, Norma mistakes the police who soon arrive for studio personnel and her beloved fans. Thinking she is on the set of Salome, Norma slowly descends her grand staircase and speaks the immortal phrase, "And now, Mr. DeMille, I am ready for my close-up."

Major characters

  • Norma Desmond — a faded, eccentric, former silent screen star
  • Joe Gillis — a struggling young screenwriter
  • Max von Mayerling — Norma's ex-husband and butler
  • Betty Schaefer — A budding writer and Joe's love interest
  • Cecil B. DeMille — the famous director
  • Artie Green — Betty's fiancé
  • Sheldrake — a movie producer on the lot
  • Manfred — an expensive tailor

Musical numbers

Act I
  • Overture / I Guess It Was 5AM - Joe
  • Let's Have Lunch - Joe, Actors, actress, scriptwriters, Artie, Sheldrake, Betty
  • Every Movie's A Circus† - Betty, Joe
  • Car Chase - orchestra
  • At the House on Sunset - Joe
  • Surrender - Norma
  • With One Look - Norma
  • Salome - Norma, Joe
  • Greatest Star of All - Max
  • Every Movie's a Circus (Reprise)† [Originally a reprise of "Let's Have Lunch"] - Actors, Actress, Waiters, Artie, Joe, Betty, Barman
  • Girl Meets Boy - Joe, Betty
  • Back at the House on Sunset - Joe, Max
  • New Ways to Dream - Norma, Joe
  • Completion of the Script - Norma, Joe
  • The Lady's Paying - Norma, Manfred, Joe, Ensemble
  • New Year's Eve - Joe, Max
  • The Perfect Year - Norma, Joe
  • This Time Next Year - Ensemble, Artie, Betty, Joe, Cecil B. DeMile
  • New Year's Eve (Back at the House on Sunset)- Joe, Norma
Act II
  • Entr'acte - orchestra
  • Sunset Boulevard - Joe
  • There's Been a Call (Perfect year [Reprise]) - Norma
  • Journey to Paramount - Joe, Norma
  • As If We Never Said Goodbye - Norma
  • Paramount Conversations - Betty, Joe, Norma, Cecil B. DeMile, Sheldrake, Max
  • Surrender (Reprise) - Cecil B. DeMile
  • Girl Meets Boy (Reprise)- Joe, Betty
  • Eternal Youth Is Worth a Little Suffering - Norma, Astrologer, Beauticians
  • Who's Betty Schaefer? - Joe
  • Betty's Office at Paramount - Joe, Betty
  • Too Much in Love to Care - Betty, Joe
  • New Ways to Dream (Reprise)- Max
  • The Phone Call - Norma
  • The Final Scene - Joe, Betty, Norma, Max

†Not included on the World Premiere recording.


Original London Production

Sunset Boulevard's original West End production, directed by Trevor Nunn and choreographed by Bob Avian, opened on July 12, 1993 at the Adelphi Theatre with Patti LuPone as Norma Desmond, Kevin Anderson as Joe Gillis, Meredith Braun as Betty Schaefer, and Daniel Benzali as Norma's ex-husband, Max. Billy Wilder and his wife Audrey were joined by Nancy Olson, who had played Betty Schaefer in the original film, at the opening night performance. Of it, Wilder observed, "The best thing they did was leave the script alone," and of Patti LuPone he exclaimed, "She's a star from the moment she walks on stage."[7]

Reviews were mixed: Many critics felt that the score was repetitive and that more time had been spent constructing the mammoth set than working on the book. Still, it was an instant sell-out success and ran for 1,529 performances. Anderson left the London company in January 1994 to be replaced by Gerard Casey.

Los Angeles Production

The American premiere was at the Shubert Theatre in Century City, Los Angeles, California, on December 9, 1993, with Glenn Close as Norma and Alan Campbell as Joe. Featured were George Hearn as Max and Judy Kuhn as Betty. Lloyd Webber had reworked both the book and score, tightening the production, better organizing the orchestrations, and adding the song "Every Movie's A Circus". This new production was better received by the critics and was an instant success, running for 369 performances. The Los Angeles production also recorded a new cast album that is well-regarded. It is also the only unabridged cast recording of the show, since the original London recording was trimmed by over thirty minutes.

Original Broadway Production

The musical opened on Broadway at the Minskoff Theatre on November 17, 1994 with Close, Campbell, and Hearn recreating their roles from the Los Angeles production and Alice Ripley joining the cast as Betty. Also in the cast were Allen Oppenheimer as Cecil B. DeMille and Vincent Tumeo making his Broadway debut as Artie Green. The production opened with the highest advance in the history of Broadway ticket sales[8]and ran for 977 performances. Billy Wilder was in attendance on opening night and was coaxed onstage by Close for the curtain call.[7] In a season with only one other musical nominated for Best Musical, the production won several Tony Awards; Glenn Close, with only one other nominee as Best Actress in a musical, won the Tony for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.

Patti LuPone, who initially had been promised the Broadway run, sued Lloyd Webber and received a settlement reported to be $1 million; Faye Dunaway, set to replace Close in L.A., was let go because Lloyd Webber felt her singing voice was not up to the role.[9] She also sued Lloyd Webber. Frank Rich, in his book The Hot Seat[10], noted that these lawsuits contributed to Sunset Boulevard setting the record for the most money lost by a theatrical endeavor in the history of the United States. According to The New York Times, operating costs soared far beyond the budget, and the "Broadway production has earned back, at best, 80 percent of the initial $13 million".[9] For example, during the week of July 2, 1995, "it cost $731,304 to run Sunset Boulevard, including... advertising fees of $138,352 (which had been budgeted at $40,000 a week)."[9] The road companies also generated large financial losses. Rich puts the final figure near or above US$20 million lost, making the show what he termed a "flop-hit," as it ran more than two years.

Cover of Petula Clark's promotional CD
1994 London Revamp

The London show was revamped to follow the lead of the New York production and starred Broadway and TV veteran Betty Buckley and John Barrowman. Michael Bauer, who had played DeMille in the original production replaced Benzali as Max, a role he played until the end of the London run (and subsequently on the UK tour and the BBC concert.) Buckley and the production garnered rave reviews. Buckley then followed Glenn Close as Norma Desmond in the second year of the New York production. Elaine Paige, who had filled in when Buckley was ill in 1994, took over as Norma Desmond in London in 1995 before joining the Broadway production for the end of its run between 1996 and 1997. Petula Clark filled in for Paige during her holiday in September/October 1995, before taking over the role the following January when Paige departed for the United States. The last "star" to take on the role of Norma Desmond in London was Rita Moreno, who filled in for a vacationing Clark in September and October 1996. John Barrowman played Joe until 1995, when he was replaced by Alexander Hanson. Graham Bickley played the role for the final year of the London run.

International productions

The Toronto production opened in 1995 with Diahann Carroll in the lead role. Her performance was also praised by critics, although the production closed sooner than expected. It also starred Rex Smith as Joe, Walter Charles as Max and Anita Louise Combe as Betty.

A German production of the revamped musical opened December 7, 1995 at the newly-built Rhein-Main Theater in Niedernhausen, starring Helen Schneider and Uwe Kröger in the lead roles. The role of Norma Desmond was later played by Daniela Ziegler and Christina Grimandi, before Schneider once more played the lead. The show ran with moderate success until it closed in May 1998. During the last few months, Schneider was replaced by Sue Mathys as Norma Desmond.

In 1996, Debra Byrne as Norma and Hugh Jackman as Joe starred in the first Australian production of Sunset Boulevard. The production opened the newly restored Regent Theatre, but closed down even sooner than the Canadian production due to Debra Byrne's poor health.

A low budget production played for a time in Spain in 2000, with heavy alterations to the book and using a combination of the original score and the subsequent revision that appeared in the Los Angeles production.

A year-long Dutch tour commenced in Holland on October 10, 2008, with Simone Kleinsma and Pia Douwes alternating as Norma. Kleinsma went on to win the Best Actress Award for the role in the 2009 Dutch Musical Awards.

The Swedish premiere took place at the Värmlandsoperan in September 2009, to mostly positive reviews. The role of Norma Desmond was played by Swedish actress Maria Lundqvist.

US Tours

The first national US tour starring Linda Balgord was aborted after only a handful of venues due to exorbitant costs involved in transporting the set, so Lloyd Webber called in director Susan H. Schulman to design a scaled-down production, with Petula Clark once again in the lead opposite Lewis Cleale as Joe. This production featured Anthony Powell's Tony Award nominated costumes, a slightly modified libretto by Schulman and Don Black and a new, more tour-friendly set by Derek McLane. The revised production, opening in Pittsburgh about a year after the closing of the original tour in Chicago, went on the road for almost two years, though it avoided the cities covered by the previous tour.

2001-2 UK Tour

In August 2001, a UK tour commenced in Plymouth starring Faith Brown as Norma, opposite Earl Carpenter as Joe. The production had a completely new set, much simpler than the original London set, but without compromising the quality of the show and the overall production remaining more faithful to the original staging than the previous US tour with Petula Clark. Carpenter left midway through the tour and was replaced by Jeremy Finch, who had previously understudied the role. The tour finished in late 2002 in Manchester and met with both excellent reviews and respectable ticket sales.

Concert Productions

In 2004, Petula Clark reprised her role as Norma opposite Michael Ball at a concert production of the show that ran for two nights at the Cork Opera House in Ireland, which was later broadcast on BBC Radio. To date, with more than 2500 performances to her credit, she has played the role more often than any other actress.[citation needed]

Another two day concert engagement took place in 2004 in Sydney by the Production Company; Judi Connelli starred as Norma, Michael Cormick played Joe and Anthony Warlow was Max. The Production Company staged a slightly more elaborate version of the concert for a week in Melbourne during 2005. Connelli again starred as Norma, and David Campbell took the role of Joe. The State Theatre was sold out for every performance.[11]

London Revival Logo
2008 Newbury and London Revival

An eight week engagement of a minimalist production, in which the actors used musical instruments, enjoyed a good run at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury over the summer of 2008. Directed and choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood, the cast featured Kathryn Evans as Norma and Ben Goddard as Joe. A West End transfer of the Watermill production began on 4 December 2008 prior to an official opening 15 December at the Comedy Theatre, with Evans and Goddard reprising their roles.[12] The production received rave reviews and extended its run to September 2009. However, the production closed just after initially planned on 30 May 2009.[13]It had originally been booking until 19 September 2009. There are plans for a UK Tour and also talks of bringing the production to Broadway[14]

Planned film adaptation

Paramount Pictures and the Relevant Picture Company announced in 2005 that they are developing a new film adaptation of the musical. The release was originally planned for 2006.[15] This was postponed to 2008, but production has now been delayed to at least 2010, because of the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike. On August 5, 2007, The Telegraph reported that several actresses are being considered for the role of Norma Desmond, among them Glenn Close, who played the role on Broadway, Elaine Paige, who played the role in London and later on Broadway, Meryl Streep, Liza Minnelli, and Barbra Streisand.[16]

Awards and nominations

Awards don't really tell you much when the competition is feeble or simply nonexistent, as was the case the year that Sunset Boulevard won its Tony. Such prizes are for use in advertising and promotion and to impress the folks back home.

Vincent Canby, [17]

Tony Awards

  • Awards
    • Best Musical
    • Best Score of a Musical
    • Best Book of a Musical
    • Best Scenic Design
    • Best Lighting Design
    • Best Featured Actor in a Musical - George Hearn
    • Best Actress in a Musical - Glenn Close
  • Nominations
    • Best Actor in a Musical - Alan Campbell
    • Best Costume Design
    • Best Choreography - Bob Avian
    • Best Direction of a Musical - Trevor Nunn

Outer Critics Circle Awards

  • Outstanding Broadway Musical (winner)
  • Outstanding Actress in a Musical - Glenn Close (winner)

Drama Desk Award

  • Outstanding Actress in a Musical - Glenn Close (winner)

Drama Logue Awards (Los Angeles production)

  • Outstanding Production
  • Outstanding Original Music
  • Outstanding Direction
  • Outstanding Writing
  • Outstanding Scenic Design
  • Outstanding Costume Design
  • Outstanding Lighting Design
  • Outstanding Performance - Glenn Close
  • Outstanding Performance - Alan Campbell

L.A. Drama Critics Circle Awards

  • Outstanding Scenic Design
  • Outstanding Lighting Design
  • Outstanding Costume Design
  • Outstanding Sound Design
  • Outstanding Lead Performance - Glenn Close

Ovation Awards

  • Best Musical
  • Best Scenic Design
  • Best Costume Design
  • Best Lighting Design


  1. ^ Based on liner notes to Boulevard! CD release by Richard Stapley, Tim J. Hutton, and Steven M. Warner
  2. ^ The Bad and the Beautiful: Hollywood in the Fifties by Sam Kashner and Jennifer MacNair, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2002, ISBN 0-393-04321-5, pg. 346
  3. ^ On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder by Ed Sikov, Hyperion, New York, New York, 1998, pp. 467-468, ISBN 0-7868-6194-0
  4. ^ a b c '...Inspired by Sunset Boulevard' from Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group website
  5. ^ Lloyd Webber in Accord For Buyback of Company, a February 1990 article from The New York Times
  6. ^ a b "A Journey Down $un$set Blvd.". Goodspeed Musicals's Show Music magazine. Fall 1993. Retrieved September 21 2008. 
  7. ^ a b On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder, pg. 589
  8. ^ Sunset Boulevard History Inspiration
  9. ^ a b c "Following 'Sunset,' Shadows Over Lloyd Webber's Empire", The New York Times, March 1997
  10. ^ Hot Seat: Theater Criticism for The New York Times, 1980-1993 (Random House, 1998. ISBN 0679453008) from the author's website
  11. ^ Information about the Australian production from
  12. ^ Shenton, Mark. "Sunset Boulevard Will Return to the West End in December",, November 17, 2008
  13. ^ London Revival of Sunset Boulevard to Close May 30
  14. ^ [ Watermills SUNSET BOULEVARD to Close in West End May 30 2009
  15. ^ The Telegraph announcement of 2006 musical film. July 10, 2005. Retrieved July 27, 2005.
  16. ^ Meryl Streep competes for Sunset Boulevard from
  17. ^ "Why Whisper About It? 'The Life' Is a Joy", The New York Times, October 1997


External links



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