Sunset Boulevard weaves a magnificent tale of faded glory and unfulfilled ambition. Silent movie star Norma Desmond longs for a return to the big screen, having been discarded by tinsel town with the advent of “talkies.” Her glamour has faded in all but her mind. When she meets struggling Hollywood screenwriter Joe Gillis in dramatic circumstances, their subsequent passionate and volatile relationship leads to an unforeseen and tragic conclusion.
Based on the Billy Wilder film, the musical version of Sunset Boulevard, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Christopher Hampton and Don Black, had its world premiere at London’s Adelphi Theatre on July 12th, 1993. The show received its American premiere in December 1993 at the Shubert Theatre in Los Angeles starring Glenn Close as Norma Desmond. The show opened on Broadway at the Minskoff Theatre in November 1994 with the highest advance in Broadway history at the time ($37.5 million in ticket sales).
The show has been staged across the world with productions in Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, and tours in the US and UK.
Sunset Boulevard returned to Broadway in 2017 at the Palace Theatre with Glenn Close reprising her role as Norma Desmond, following a sold out run in the West End at the London Coliseum.
I first saw Sunset Boulevard sometime in the early 70s. It inspired a tune. This tune was supposed to be the title song. However, I neither had the rights to the film, nor at that time was likely to be able to obtain them. Eventually I used a couple of fragments of that tune in Stephen Frears’ affectionate Bogart spoof, Gumshoe.
Hal Prince began working with me on the musical Evita. We discussed Sunset Boulevard and I saw the movie again since Hal Prince had obtained the rights. It all came to nothing but I wrote an idea for the moment when Norma Desmond returns to Paramount Studios.
At around the same time I met with Christopher Hampton whom I had known for some years as he was at school with Tim Rice. He had already declared an interest in writing the libretto for the English National Opera of Sunset Boulevard, but this too had come to nothing. We thought it was a wonderful idea but came to the conclusion that in both our cases other projects made Sunset impossible and there was yet again the question of whether we would get the rights.
I thought of Sunset on and off over the next 12 years, but it was only after Aspects of Love that I felt it was the subject I had to compose next. I contacted Paramount and, this time, the rights were available. So I took an option and started work. As ever, several early jottings were discarded. Then I had the idea of working with Chris Hampton once more. Chris was intrigued but felt that he would be happy working with somebody who had experience of lyrics before. I introduced him to my old friend and collaborator, Don Black, and what I hoped most would happen appears to have done so. They collaborated on both the book and lyrics together.
I began composing the score shortly after the opening of Aspects of Love in London in 1989. I tried various versions of the title song, but came back to the original idea I had in the early 70s, albeit in a very different style and form. I stayed with my late 70s draft of the moment where Norma returns to Paramount, “As If We Never Said Goodbye”. Otherwise mostly everything has been written since 1989. Andrew Lloyd Webber