Sunset Boulevard is a musical play based on the movie 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 a young screenwriter named Joe Gillis accidentally crosses her path, she sees in him an opportunity to pave the way for her comeback to the big screen. (When Gillis comments, "You used to be in pictures, you used to be big," she retorts "I AM big . . . it's the pictures that got small!") A thwarted romance and tragedy follow.
With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, direction by Trevor Nunn, and starring Patti LuPone and Daniel Benzali, the production first opened at the Adelphi Theatre (owned by Lloyd Webber) in London's West End. Reviews were quite mixed - many critics felt that the score was repetitive and more time had been spent constructing the mammoth set than working on the book. Critic Frank Rich, who otherwise praised the show, noted that LuPone was far too young to play Desmond, and thought that Desmond's songs had been written without consideration that the actress playing her might best be older and not a youthful belter. Some critics regard Lupone's performance as lackluster and devoid of any emotion. Still, it was an instant sell-out success.
Lupone was later replaced when the production moved to Los Angeles and Webber began auditioning new actresses for the role of Norma Desmond. Webber also did some re-working to the script as well as the score, tightening the production and better organizing the orchestrations.
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. This new production was better received by the critics and was an instant success. The Los Angeles production also re-recorded a new cast album which is considered the definitive version of the production.
Sunset Boulevard 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 and Vincent Tumeo. The production opened with the highest advance in the history of Broadway ticket sales. It ran for 977 performances. It won several Tony Awards in the musical category and Glenn Close walked away with the Best Performance of an Actress in a Leading Role.
The Toronto production opened in 1995 with Diahann Carroll in the lead role. Her performance was also praised by critcs though the production closed sooner than expected.
LuPone, who initially had been promised the Broadway run, sued Lloyd Webber and won an out-of-court settlement reputed to be an extremely healthy sum. She wasn't the only actress to get paid for not playing - Faye Dunaway, set to replace Close in L.A., proved to be unable to meet the vocal challenges of the score, and was let go. She, too, sued Lloyd Webber. Frank Rich, in his book The Hot Seat, 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. Despite its record advance sales, weekly operating costs were so high that it could not pay back its initial investment, and its road companies generated large financial losses. Rich puts the final figure near or above US$20 million, making it what he termed a "flop-hit", as it ran more than two years.
The London show was revamped to follow the lead of the New York production and starred Broadway and TV legend Betty Buckley. She and the revamped production garnered rave reviews; Betty Buckley then followed Glenn Close as Norma Desmond in the second year of the New York production.
Then Elaine Paige starred as Norma Desmond in the West End production, followed by Petula Clark. The excellent reviews and buzz from both productions helped to launch a second national tour in the US starring Clark. A first attempt at touring the show starring Linda Balgord had been aborted 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 Clark again in the lead. In 2004, she repeated her performance at the Cork Opera House in Ireland for broadcast on BBC Radio. To date, she has played the role more often than any other actress.
In 2001, a UK tour commenced starring Faith Brown as Norma Desmond, against Earl Carpenter as Joe Gillis. The show had a completely new contemporary set, much simpler than the original London set, but without compromising the quality of the show.
In 1996, Debra Byrne and Hugh Jackman starred in the first Australian production of Sunset Boulevard. In 2005, Judi Conelli and David Campbell starred in a new Australian version.
In July 2005, Lloyd-Webber's Really Useful Group announced that a film version was to be produced with an expected release date of 2006 with Glenn Close reprising her role, although this has been unconfirmed. The production will be produced by Paramount and the Relevant Picture Company. See: Sunset Boulevard. As of 2006 the projected date for release of this film according to the IMDB has been put back to 2008. 
It came fifth in a BBC Radio 2 listener poll of the "Nation's Number One Essential Musicals" (wherein Nation refers to the United Kingdom). 
The following list is as according to the 1994 Los Angeles "American Premiere" Cast Recording