From the Award-winning creative team of Paul Warwick Griffin and Charl-Johan Lingenfelder (Joseph, HAIR, JC Superstar, CHESS, EVITA)
Starring Angela Kilian (Evita, CATS, Phantom) as Norma Desmond
And Jonathan Roxmouth (A Handful of Keys, Grease, Beauty and the Beast, JC Superstar, Phantom) as Joe Gillis
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, features the hit songs “With One Look”, “As If We Never Said Goodbye” and “The Perfect Year”. Sunset Boulevard won seven Tony Awards in 1995, including Best Musical.
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 screen-writer Joe Gillis in dramatic circumstances, their subsequent passionate and volatile relationship leads to an unforeseen and tragic conclusion.
A Note on Sunset Boulevard from Andrew Lloyd Webber
I first saw Sunset Boulevard sometime in the early 1970s. 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 I likely to be able to obtain them. Eventually I used a couple of fragments of that tune in Stephen Frears’ affectionate Bogart spoof, Gumshoe.
In 1976 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 1970′s, albeit in a very different style and form. I stayed with my late 1970s 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
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 chat, Joe is spotted by car repossession agents and 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 sound movies. 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 loyal 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 seductress. Sensing an opportunity, Joe persuades Norma to let him revise the story in exchange for room and board.
Joe quickly realises the script is an incoherent jumble that no amount of editing could fix, but he keeps this fact to himself and the revision 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.
Blind to Joe’s opportunism, Norma lavishes him with gifts that include a complete wardrobe makeover. She professes her love to Joe and becomes quite possessive; 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. Their relationship turns sexual, and Joe ends up becoming her kept man.
Someone from Paramount phones the mansion with a cryptic request. Certain DeMille is eager to shoot her script, Norma drops in on the set of his current film. She is greeted warmly by former colleagues and the director himself, but DeMille 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 roughly tells Betty he likes being Norma’s pet and that she should go back to Artie. After Betty departs, brokenhearted, Joe tells Norma 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.
Completely fallen into insanity, 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.”
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The Theatre on the Bay: 28 October to 7 December 2013