Marilyn at the Edinburgh Festival

Marilyn is a hot topic in fringe theatre, though the results aren’t always stellar. At this year’s Edinburgh Festival, she’s the subject of two new shows, reviewed by Joyce McMillan for The Scotsman.

The Marilyn Conspiracy has grabbed a few headlines although Marilyn herself isn’t depicted – it’s set in the hours after her death, as some of the main players in her final months respond to the tragedy.

“The play is desperately confusing at first, and urgently needs to use its tableau-like opening moments to let the characters tell us exactly who they are … It’s a measure of the sheer power of the story, though, that the play rivets the attention nonetheless, as the two doctors in the room, and even Marilyn’s furious friend Pat Newcomb, are gradually worn down … “

However, another audience member – MM superfan Lorraine – told me, “The Marilyn Conspiracy had all the bogus theories – the ambulance, Bobby Kennedy, injections, enemas etc … I could hear people laughing a lot at some of the theories talked about … maybe the audience all knew better!” In his review for The Stage Paul Vale agrees, describing the play as a “stifling, under-developed drama that blurs fact and fiction.”

Theatregoers whom (like myself) aren’t enthralled by conspiracy theories may prefer the lighter option…

“JoJo Desmond’s cabaret show The Marilyn Monroe Story is a fragile little piece by comparison, a brief and simply staged hour of songs and biographical narrative tracing Marilyn’s remarkable life, not least through versions of some of her most famous and fabulous costumes. Desmond sings Marilyn’s songs beautifully, in a near-perfect imitation of her breathily gorgeous voice; and she, too, observes the link with the #metoo moment. Her script, though, never soars into anything like the brilliant writing a life like Marilyn’s invites and for all her charm, she is a long way from even beginning to capture the glowing charisma of the woman herself.”

Once again, Lorraine’s view was quite different to McMillan’s. “On the whole,” she says, “the show was well-researched and the costumes and mannerisms and performances of songs were spot on … the voice was accurate and she had some beautiful costumes (including a ‘Heat Wave’ replica outfit!), and you could tell that she had studied every single movement that Marilyn does in each of the musical performances.”

Where Marilyn is concerned, a diehard fan can be more perceptive than most theatre critics. Lorraine will be posting her full review of both shows soon on the Marilyn Remembered blog.

Ed Sheeran Covers ‘Candle in the Wind’

The British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran has covered ‘Candle in the Wind’ for Revamp, a new album of classic Elton John/Bernie Taupin hits performed by various artists. Sheeran’s country-style version is a little underwhelming, but he has the kind of ‘everyman’ appeal which makes him a believable ‘young man in the 22nd row.’

“[It was about] the idea of fame or youth or somebody being cut short in the prime of their life,” Bernie Taupin has said. “The song could have been about James Dean, it could have been about Montgomery Clift, it could have been about Jim Morrison … how we glamorise death, how we immortalise people.” Taupin was inspired to write the lyrics of the song after hearing the phrase ‘candle in the wind’ used in tribute to singer Janis Joplin. I think the biggest misconception about ‘Candle In The Wind’ is that I was this rabid Marilyn Monroe fanatic, which really couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s not that I didn’t have a respect for her.”

You can read more about the song here

A Perfect Circle: So Long, Marilyn

Marilyn by Bert Stern, 1962

Rock supergroup A Perfect Circle (featuring members of Smashing Pumpkins, Tool, and Marilyn Manson’s bassist) are releasing their first album in fourteen years this week.  One of their new tracks, ‘So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish‘ (after the whimsical title of a Douglas Adams novel), nods to deceased stars like David Bowie and the original MM with a mixture of nostalgia and cynicism (the Monroe reference may also be a nod to Elton John’s ‘Candle in the Wind.’)

“Ticker tape parade
Our hair and skin like
Like Marilyn Monroe
In an empty wind …”

Marilyn Opera in Vienna

First produced in Banff, Canada back in 2010, then in Long Beach, California in 2015, Marilyn Forever – an opera by composer Gavin Bryars and librettist Marilyn Bowering (based on her 1987 poetry collection, Anyone Can See I Love You) – makes its European debut in English with German surtitles at the Schwarzenbergplatz Casino in Vienna on selected dates from April 13-May 2nd.  Rebecca Babb-Nelsen  stars as Marilyn.

“Starting from the last night in the life of Marilyn Monroe, 5 August 1962, the scenes of the opera unfold in front of the audience like pieces of a puzzle that together make up the myth of Marilyn: moments of her life, set pieces from her poems, her relationship with Arthur Miller, the identities of the orphan Norma Jeane and the fictional character Marilyn, the discrepancy between their personal ideals of love and artistry and the outward appearance of the sex symbol. The eight-member chamber orchestra is complemented by a jazz trio on stage.”

Carol Richards: Singing With the Stars

Carol Richards (1922-2007) was an American singer who also dubbed many stars in classic Hollywood films. She began her career at a radio station in Indianapolis. After winning a Bob Hope talent contest, she moved to Hollywood and appeared in many television shows. Best-known for her duet with Bing Crosby, ‘Silver Bells’, she was also a vocal double for actresses Vera Ellen in Call Me Madam, and Cyd Charisse in Silk Stockings, among others.

Marilyn rehearsing a number for ‘Some Like It Hot’

Interviewed for SeaCoastOnline, Carol’s grandson, Michael Scharff, claims she also worked with Marilyn:

“Richards was hired to dub for Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot, but instead convinced Monroe to do her own songs, and trained her to ‘act the song,’ Scharff says.

The lesson shared with Monroe informs his own work as a singer and vocal teacher, ‘acting as singing,’ he says. ‘I say every song is a monologue set to rhythm with melody. It’s a singer’s job to interpret those lines. It comes right from my grandmother.'”

Personally, I find it unlikely that Marilyn ever seriously considered being dubbed. She had already proved herself in several musicals, released hit records and performed live. Marilyn also worked closely with the Matty Malneck Orchestra for Some Like It Hot. Furthermore, the film is not among Carol’s credits.

However, Some Like It Hot was Marilyn’s first movie in two years, so she have needed to brush up her vocal skills; and with the possible exception of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, her songs as Sugar Kane are probably the most ‘in character’. So while unconfirmed, it’s possible that Carol did help to coach her for the role.

Marilyn Returns to ‘Battleground Korea’

Battleground Korea: Songs and Sounds of America’s Forgotten War is a deluxe 4-CD box set from Bear Family Records. Among those featured on this ultimate soundtrack to history are artists who performed for US troops, and news broadcasts from the era.

Unfortunately, Marilyn’s performances aren’t included (perhaps full recordings aren’t available), but her 1954 visit is covered in an accompanying hardback book, with nine pages of photos showing Marilyn among her greatest fans.

Thanks to A Passion for Marilyn

‘Seven Year Itch’ Soundtrack on Vinyl

After a CD release in 2016, the Soundtrack Factory label has now reissued Alfred Newman’s instrumental score for The Seven Year Itch on vinyl. (This doesn’t include the other Fox soundtracks added to the CD.) MM superfan Johan says this deluxe gatefold LP is ‘great’, apart from a factual error in the sleevenotes (Natasha Lytess was Marilyn’s coach for the movie, not Paula Strasberg.)

Ariel Pink Plays Marilyn’s Ghost in Music Video

A ghostly Marilyn Monroe (in drag) features in a Hollywood-themed new music video, as Randall Roberts reports for the Orlando Sentinel.

“Ssion featuring Ariel Pink, “At Least the Sky Is Blue” (Dero Arcade). The multi-disciplinary artist born Cody Critcheloe, who performs as Ssion, has carved a fascinating life for himself. As a video director, he’s worked with such acts as Peaches, Kylie Minogue, Santigold and Perfume Genius; as a bandleader and producer, he crafts dense, slightly off-balance club tracks.

For his new ‘At Least the Sky Is Blue’ video, which is taken from his forthcoming album ‘O’ (May 11), he and collaborator Ariel Pink portray characters in a VCR-tinted set piece featuring a Mercedes convertible cruising through the city. Dressed in drag as the ghost of Marilyn Monroe, Pink appears as a vision being pushed along the sidewalk in a wheelchair.”

Camila Cabello, Mama June Inspired by Marilyn

After Marilyn featured in a video backdrop for Camila Camello’s Tonight Show appearance in January, the singer has referenced ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ (via Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’ video, the ultimate homage) in a performance of her hit single, ‘Havana’, at the iHeartRadio Music Awards last night.

And elsewhere in the world of celebrity, reality TV star Mama June has shown off her recent weight loss with a Marilyn-inspired shoot to promote her new show, Mama June: From Hot to Not.