Sunset Boulevard

Previewed 4 December 2008, Opened 15 December 2008, Closed 30 May 2009 at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London

A major revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Sunset Boulevard in London starring Kathryn Evans, Ben Goddard and Dave Willetts. This production transfers to London's West End following a successful season at The Watermill Theatre in West Berkshire.

"Alright, Mr DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up" - In her mansion on Sunset Boulevard, faded, silent-screen goddess, Norma Desmond, lives in a fantasy world. Impoverished screen writer, Joe Gillis, on the run from debt collectors, stumbles into her reclusive world. Persuaded to work on Norma's 'masterpiece', a film script that she believes will put her back in front of the cameras; he is seduced by her and her luxurious lifestyle. Joe becomes entrapped in a claustrophobic world until his love for another woman leads him to try and break free with dramatic consequences - "You used to be in pictures, you used to be big" - "I AM BIG... it's the pictures that got small!"

The cast for Sunset Boulevard in London features Kathryn Evans as 'Norma Desmond' and Ben Goddard as 'Joe Gillis' who are both reprising their roles from The Watermill Theatre season, they will be joined in the West End production by Dave Willetts as 'Max von Mayerling'. The production is directed by Craig Revel Horwood with musical supervision and arrangements by Sarah Travis, designs by Diego Pitarch, lighting by Richard G Jones and sound by Gary Dixon. With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton based on the Billy Wilder film. Kathryn Evans' West End credits include the musical Radio Times at the Queen's Theatre in 1992. Craig Revel Horwood's West End credits include Hard Times The Musical at the Haymarket Theatre in 2000.

"Norma Desmond is still big, it's just the theatres that got small... This is Sunset Boulevard stripped down - or as stripped-down as Lloyd Webber on Hollywood will allow. The twist here is that the cast is also the orchestra; seated on the edge of the stage, they play their instruments when they're not singing, a feat of co-ordination from [director] Craig Revel Horwood and the musical supervisor, Sarah Travis... For aficionados of the lord, it's full throttle and full satisfaction." The Sunday Times

"This new, pared-down, monochrome revival directed by Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood has doubtless already paid for itself in a sell-out season at Newbury's Watermill Theatre. But its real triumph lies in making a truly theatrical experience of Billy Wilder's classic 1950 film about the crazy, faded movie star who imagines she can make a comeback. Here, instead of a traditional orchestra belting out one of Lloyd Webber's most lushly romantic and haunting scores from the pit, an astonishingly accomplished ensemble of 13 actor-musicians not only play Sarah Travis's sparkling, stripped-down arrangements on various instruments, they also sing, dance and move the furniture. There's no shortage of atmosphere. Mist swirls around Norma Desmond's Los Angeles mansion, which is no more than a small spiral staircase on which a full-throttled Kathryn Evans makes her wonderfully stagey entrances and exits, eyes flashing, chin tilted, every inch the grotesque diva. But it's the moody music, not the spectacle, that creates the drama and the dynamism." The Mail on Sunday

"All things considered, one can't really blame people for not feeling in the mood for the Christmas pantomimes this year, and thus I think Sunset Boulevard - Andrew Lloyd Webber's bleakest and most mature work - is likely to find a ready audience... In its more intimate home at the Comedy Theatre (now Harold Pinter Theatre), with Strictly Come Dancing's Craig Revel Horwood directing, it feels more like a rather good night out at a jazz club, and I enjoyed the easy camaraderie between the audience and the cast. The book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, as well as of course the sublime music by Lloyd Webber, don't merely survive the transition as thrive on it. Some shows simply cannot work in small venues but Sunset is a special case because its story is a claustrophobic one... Beginning and ending with death and madness - as the film did - the show is hardly likely to put a spring in anyone's step this Christmas, but I guarantee that the music will haunt you long after the curtain comes down. Sunset Boulevard is still big - it's just the stage that has got smaller." The Sunday Telegraph

Sunset Boulevard at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London previewed from 4 December 2008, opened on 15 December 2008 and closed on 30 May 2009.


Sunset Boulevard - 1994 revised version

Previewed 7 April 1994, Opened 19 April 1994, Closed 5 April 1997 at the Adelphi Theatre in London

Andrew Lloyd Webber and director Trevor Nunn bring the acclaimed 'Los Angeles Version' of the musical Sunset Boulevard to London.

Following the opening of this production at the Adelphi Theatre in London in July 1993, a revised version was subsequently produced in Los Angeles which was well received. Now, following a three week closure of the original London West End production, this revised version and set is now being presented here in London with the new song 'Every Movie's a Circus' added.

Original cast for this revised version featured Betty Buckley as 'Norma Desmond', John Barrowman as 'Joe Gillis' and Michael Bauer as 'Max von Mayerling'. Directed by Trevor Nunn with musical staging and choreography by Bob Avian, sets by John Napier, costumes by Anthony Powell, lighting by Andrew Bridge and sound by Martin Levan. With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton based on the Billy Wilder film. John Barrowman's West End credits include the musical Matador with Stefanie Powers at the Queen's Theatre in 1991.

"Alterations have been made to the sound, the look and the speed, and the last of these three depends on the first. There still remain passages where the music stops but while this new Sunset has not become one of Lloyd Webber's sung-through musicals, there is now a musical accompaniment to most scenes. The effect is to give a greater momentum to the story... Betty Buckley sings almost too well for Norma. The high notes Lloyd Webber favours take individual character from the roles whenever they appear. When Buckley is given deep and furious growls to sing, she is far closer to the mad Norma Desmond we carry in our memory from the Wilder film. John Barrowman, the new Joe, convincingly suggests self-disgust in two solo numbers and has the puppyish young looks that suit his decline into the status of kept boy." The Times

"Is Andrew Lloyd Webber's new version of Sunset Boulevard superior to his original? Is cyanide more effective than arsenic? If you gotta go, you gotta go. This way is quicker and more intense... The most curious thing is that Lloyd Webber had to revise Sunset Boulevard at all. Though he is crass and corny as a composer of popular music drama, he is terrific as an inventor of blockbuster tourist attractions - usually... Lloyd Webber's tinkerings cannot disguise the ghastly unoriginality of his mind. Other composers borrow material, but they make something personal from their borrowings. Lloyd Webber, however, simply presses musical feel-good triggers in your mind. His scores have no intention of doing anything new... In the original movie Sunset Boulevard you cannot miss how, when Joe escapes from Norma to write scripts (and fall in love) with Betty, he is escaping from a mausoleum to a world of spontaneity. Not so here. Betty's milieu is as musically repetitious as Norma's. More so, in fact. At least Norma's New Year's Eve party breaks out of a tango into a waltz Betty's stays stuck in a tango. More impartant, in the movie, you cannot miss the appalling moral collapse of Joe, as he falls reluctantly into Norma's power. Yet here he is little better than a gigolo... This is the worst staging I have ever seen by Trevor Nunn. Why does Norma roam around constantly during her first number? And Joe during the title song? Why are the lines of spoken dialogue paced with such predictable rhythm? When Joe and Betty fall in love (1: 'What happened?' 2: 'You did.' 3: they kiss) it sounds like emotion by metronome." The Financial Times

Sunset Boulevard in London at the Adelphi Theatre previewed from 7 April 1994, opened on 19 April 1994 and closed on 5 April 1997


Sunset Boulevard - 1993 with Patti LuPone

Previewed 28 June 1993, Opened 12 July 1993, Closed 12 March 1994 at the Adelphi Theatre in London

The original cast featured Patti LuPone as 'Norma Desmond', Kevin Anderson as 'Joe Gillis' and Daniel Benzali as 'Max von Mayerling'. Directed by Trevor Nunn with musical staging and choreography by Bob Avian, sets by John Napier, costumes by Anthony Powell, lighting by Andrew Bridge and sound by Martin Levan. With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton based on the Billy Wilder film.

This production was originally scheduled to preview from 21 June 1993 and open on 29 June 1993, but technical problems with the set - it was found that mobile phones interferred with the set's hydraulics causing them to move - caused the opening to be delayed.

"It is often gorgeous to look at, sometimes enchanting to hear, and, more than most of Andrew Lloyd Webber's works, merits the century-long run it may well achieve... The obvious comparison is with Phantom of the Opera, a more serious, more imposing and in every sense more haunting musical... Don Black and Christopher Hampton's book is absorbing stuff, as it should be, since it sticks very closely to Billy Wilder's movie... Trevor Nunn, who directs, and John Napier, who designs, have a long history of collaboration; but have they ever come up with a more striking setting than the mighty Desmond pad? It is a wonderfully elaborate jumble of Tutankhamen rococo, a glistening mix of banisters, candles, organ-pipes, corkscrew arches and exotic fretwork... And Lloyd Webber's score? Some of the linking passages have a staccato, tum-ti-ti-tum predictability; but there are more attractive melodies here than in any other of his musicals to date." The Times

"In the movie Norma was seen through a veil of Wilderesque irony, in the musical she becomes a camp pop icon: an ageing celluloid battler oblivious to her faded glory. The show seems less a critique of Hollywood cruelty than a tribute to star-magnetism, an effect enhanced by Patti LuPone's performance... She sings with a naked emotional directness that seems to be bred into the Broadway bone. Her final batty parody of Salome's dance to the cameras is a consummate piece of acting. But there is something distorted about the way the musical turns the character from a barbarous victim of changing taste into an heroic tragedy-queen... Trevor Nunn's production, with its deft use of filmic bridging scenes, is technically superb. John Napier's designs are architecturally precise and hydraulically ingenious... The whole is skilful, clever and effective, despite being a hymn to Hollywood dreams rather than a detached satiric attack on their ultimate destructiveness." The Guardian

Sunset Boulevard in London at the Adelphi Theatre previewed from 28 June 1993, opened on 12 July 1993 and closed on 12 March 1994.