Oz ‘Sunset’ A Sensation

The Australian premiere of “Sunset Boulevard” is about 11 months away, and tickets don’t go on sale to the public until next March, but 40,000 ducats already have been snapped up. That’s A$3 million ($2.2 million) worth of advance business sold by travel agents, chiefly to theater-hungry people in other Australian cities and in New Zealand.

Even more remarkable, some 37,000 tix were sold before it was announced that Debra Byrne would play silent-movie star Norma Desmond in the $A14 million ($10.5 million) production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s tuner. One of Australia’s most accomplished actor-singers, Byrne, who played Grizabella in “Cats” and Fantine in “Les Miserables,” went to London to audition for “Sunset” director Trevor Nunn. The other short-listed candidates reportedly included Geraldine Turner, Helen Reddy, Judi Connelli and Robyn Nevin.

The musical will open at Melbourne’s lavishly restored Regent Theater on Oct. 26, with production design by John Napier, costumes by Anthony Powell, and musical supervision and direction by David Caddick, all of whom were on the original “Sunset” team. The full cast of 32 won’t be announced until March.

Really Useful Co. Australia managing director Tim McFarlane says the advance is a “healthy start,” and he estimates travel agents will account for 30% to 40% of total sales. Byrne, who was last seen on an Australian stage in the tap-dancing musical “Hot Shoe Shuffle,” is going to Japan with that show before prepping for the Desmond role.

McFarlane doubts whether “Sunset Boulevard” will have any affect on Melbourne’s current B.O. click, “Beauty and the Beast” – a sentiment shared by that show’s co-producer, Kevin Jacobsen. The Disney musical, which bowed at the Princess Theater July 8, has been playing to 100% of capacity, selling 500,000 tickets.

The $7.5 million production has generated $22.5 million thus far.

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