Sunset Boulevard was one of the most shocking and successful films of its time, uniquely pulling back the curtain on Hollywood’s glamour to reveal the ugly corporate and cultural machinations that control artistic production in the industry. Boulevard! A Hollywood Story performs a similar service while honoring the legacy of three artists who pursued their success doggedly in the face of constant challenges.
Long before Glenn Close won a Tony for her portrayal of Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, the original Norma, Gloria Swanson, had her own aspirations to bring Sunset Boulevard to the stage. She had expected the film to shine a renewed spotlight on her career, but found herself still languishing for parts as a woman of a certain age. Enter Dickson Hughes and Richard Stapley, two young artists (and a closeted couple) trying to emerge in a competitive film and theatre world, eager for the opportunity to collaborate with a screen legend like Swanson. Several failed attempts to get the project off the ground leave the trio discouraged, and they part ways. Of course, just like Norma Desmond, the show wasn’t quite ready to let the lights fade, and dramatics ensue.
A tale of creative passion and longing for recognition, this hidden gem of Hollywood and Broadway history provides a glimpse into the ways in which commercial artistic success has been denied to women and queer people. Gloria, Dickson, and Richard are like so many who strive to be bathed in the light of stardom, and yet never quite made it there. Still, their contributions are part of a collective effort to make space on the screen and stage for honest and daring stories—for romance, tragedy, and connection.