Sunset Boulevard

Book by Christopher Hampton and Don Black. Based on the film Sunset Boulevard by Billy Wilder. Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lyrics by Don Black, Christopher Hampton and Amy Powers. The original London production opened on 12 July 1993 and was directed by Trevor Nunn, with musical staging by Bob Avian. The production closed on 5 April 1997, running for a total of ???? performances.

Synopsis and Musical Numbers

The curtain rises and a dead body is seen floating in a swimming pool. The body is pulled out of the pool, and carried across the stage on a stretcher. A man appears and begins to sing (PROLOGUE: I GUESS IT WAS 5AM). We discover this is Joe Gillis.

Six months previously… Joe visits Paramount Studios, meeting several of his friends in the biz and making dates that neither party intends to keep (LET’S HAVE LUNCH). Joe is a writer who once showed some promise – although he now seems to have lost his muse. He meets Betty Schaefer, a production assistant who read a story he wrote and wants him to develop it into a script. She wants to meet with him to discuss it. He isn’t too enthused but agrees after she helps him escape from some thugs who are trying to repossess his car (CAR CHASE).

Joe loses the thugs, but blows a tire. He pulls into the empty garage of a mansion on Sunset Boulevard and is mistaken by the butler as an undertaker, hired to bury the pet monkey of Norma Desmond – the owner of the mansion. Joe is shown inside, where a Norma bids farewell to her monkey (SURRENDER). When Joe tells her that he’s not the undertaker, she orders him to leave. However, but he recognizes her as Norma Desmond, a faded movie star. She tells him about the decline of Hollywood since the introduction of the “talkies” and how she, as a silent film star, was once able to say everything she needed (WITH ONE LOOK). She discovers that Joe is a writer and tells him that she is writing a script for her comeback (SALOME). She hires him to help her edit it, luring him into her web with the promise of a lot of money… and a room inside the mansion. The only other person living in the mansion is Norma’s butler, Max. Once her husband and director, he has devoted his life to protecting the fragile star from discovering the truth about her faded fame. Max shows Joe to his room above the garage. When Joe describes Norma as “quite a character”, Max defends her (THE GREASTEST STAR OF ALL).

The next evening, Joe goes to his meeting with Betty, which is at Schwabb’s drugstore (EVERY MOVIE’S A CIRCUS). Joe meets up with his best friend, Artie Green, who, it turns out, is engaged to Betty. Betty and Joe have their meeting (GIRL MEETS BOY). Joe is really condescending and tells Betty that he can not write the script with her but that she is welcome to do it herself. Artie invites Joe to his New Year’s Eve party and Joe – who is more than mildly attracted to Betty – says that he will be there. Back at the mansion, Joe and Norma watch one of her old movies (NEW WAYS TO DREAM). Joe begins to understand Norma better, and sees what the rejection of the public and the studios has done to her. He feels sorry for her and agrees to stay until they hear what Paramount thinks about the script. For his birthday, Norma gives Joe a makeover, which he is slow to appreciate (THE LADY’S PAYING). Norma convinces Joe to come to her New Year’s Eve party – she’s sent out every single invitation and needs his support.

New Year’s Eve arrives: Joe and Norma dance before the guests arrive (THE PERFECT YEAR). When Norma tells Joe that there are no other guests and that she set the whole thing up to have a romantic evening with him, Joe is upset. Norma tells Joe that she loves him and he tries to let her down easily, but she slaps him and tells him to get out. He gets storms out and goes to Artie’s party, where things are in full swing (THIS TIME NEXT YEAR). Joe tells Betty that he is available to write the script with her, which they can do while Artie goes to Tennessee to shoot a movie. Joe calls the mansion to tell Norma that he is moving out. Max tells him that Norma tried to kill herself, using Joe’s razor. Joe races back to the mansion, where he tells Norma that he didn’t want to hurt her. As the curtain falls, Joe goes over to the sofa where Norma is lying, and kisses her. Their fate has been sealed…

As the top of the second act, Joe sits at the pool, dressed to the nines and drinking a tropical cocktail. He has become tired of doing things the hard way and is willing to let Norma make things easy for him – whatever the price (SUNSET BOULEVARD). Norma comes to tell him that Paramount has called and they want to meet with her. She is thrilled, thinking that they want to shoot her script. They go to Paramount, where Norma enjoys her triumphant return to the studio (AS IF WE NEVER SAID GOODBYE). She also meets up with her old friend, Cecil B. DeMille. Joe and Max realise that Paramount does not want to shoot her script, which is awful – they just want to use her car in a movie. Max makes Joe promise not to tell Norma. Joe also runs into Betty and they agree to meet to work on their script. As Norma leaves the studios, DeMille remembers ner days of glory (SURRENDER – REPRISE).

Joe and Betty meet, and work on the script. Their attraction to each other is growing (GIRL MEETS BOY – REPRISE). Norma prepares for shooting her movie, consulting with with dieticians, beauticians and astrologers (ETERNAL YOUTH IS WORTH A LITTLE SUFFERING). Norma finds Joe’s script, along with Betty’s phone number, and she confronts him. He assures her that Betty is only a friend and then leaves for his final meeting with Betty. They finish the script and then Betty tells Joe that Artie wants her to come to Tennessee and get married. Joe finally realises how he feels about Betty and they admit their feelings for one another (TOO MUCH IN LOVE TO CARE).

When Joe returns to the mansion, Max warns him that he will never let Norma be destroyed (NEW WAYS TO DREAM – REPRISE). Joe goes into the mansion, and finds Norma on the phone with Betty. Joe grabs the phone and tells Betty to come to the mansion so that he can tell her the truth. Norma panics and runs upstairs as Joe steels himself for the coming encounter with several drinks. Norma reappears at the top of the stairs with a gun in her hand. She hides there as Betty arrives. Joe tells Betty that he does not want to leave his life with Norma and she should go back to Artie (SUNSET BOULEVARD – REPRISE). Betty rushes out and Joe is overcome with the horror of what he has done. Norma comes down the stairs, thanking him. He rushes past her and returns carrying his typewriter and suitcase. He tells Norma he’s leaving her, and she says that “no one ever leaves a star.” She shoots him in the back several times. He stumbles out onto the patio, and falls into the pool. Inside the house, which is full of police and reporters, Norma appears at the top of the stairs, obviously unaware of who or where she is. She thinks she is filming her movie and strides down to centre stage, “ready for her closeup.”

Mini Gallery

Sunset Boulevard Sunset Boulevard Sunset Boulevard Sunset Boulevard

Purchases from

From left to right above: 1. Sunset Boulevard Original London Cast CD. 2. Sunset Boulevard Original LA/Broadway Cast Recording CD. 3. Sunset Boulevard Original LA/Broadway Cast Highlights CD. 4. Sunset Boulevard Original Billy Wilder Film DVD. 5. Sunset Boulevard Vocal Selections.


Classic Movies and Musical Theatre
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Classic Movies and Musical Theatre by genessa
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