Category Archives: Theatre

‘Bus Stop’ Stage Revival in Maine

Another stage revival of William Inge’s Bus Stop has just opened at the Acadia Repertory Theatre in Somesville, Maine. Director Andrew Mayer outlined the differences between the play and Marilyn’s 1956 movie to readers of the Mount Desert Islander.

“‘This play is as good an American play as has ever been written. It depicts characters one doesn’t often see on the theater stage: cowboys, a nightclub singer, waitresses and a bus driver, Kansans, Missourians, Montanans. It shows them in their own world, with all the dignity, flaws and humanity of each on full display. And while the play has the (highly unconventional!) love story between Bo the cowboy and Cherie the nightclub ‘chanteuse’ at its heart, it gives plenty of stage time to the rest of the characters as well. Inge’s genius is in making these characters compelling and recognizable to everyone, while keeping the play deeply rooted in its Midwestern milieu. It’s not just a masterpiece, but a distinctively American masterpiece!'”

‘Bombshell’ Headed for Broadway

After a hugely popular, one-off benefit performance in 2015, plans to bring Bombshell – the fictitious Marilyn musical from NBC’s Smash – to Broadway for real are now taking shape, as Greg Braxton reports for the L.A. Times.

“Craig Zaden and Neil Meron, the award-winning producing team behind the Oscar-winning Chicago and NBC’s live versions of The Sound of Music and The Wiz, are joining forces with NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Green late for the project, with an opening date yet to be determined. Greenblatt has extensive Broadway experience, producing the musicals Something Rotten! and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.

Created by Theresa Rebeck, who also served as showrunner, Smash premiered in 2012 to critical praise. The Times’ Mary McNamara called it a ‘triumph.’ But after a strong start, the series ran into rough creative waters, including exaggerated side plots and strange song breaks. Ratings fell. When Smash returned for its second season, Rebeck and a number of characters were gone. But Smash still was canceled.

The appetite for the show has never died, Zaden said, and has found new life on Netflix. ‘It’s more popular now than when it was on the air.'”

Marilyn Meets Zorro … In Galway

Plays about Marilyn are increasingly popular, though often of dubious quality. But Leonor Bethencourt scores top marks for originality, using Marilyn’s brief stopover at Shannon Airport (while flying home to New York after filming The Prince and the Showgirl in November 1956) as a starting point for a zany one-woman show, as Charlie McBride reports for the Galway Advertiser. In Marilyn Monroe Airlines: Always Late and Unreliable! she plays Marilyn-worshipping air hostess Zocorro. You can catch the play at the Cava Bodega restaurant on April 20-21, as part of the Galway Theatre Festival.

“Zoccoro is the sole crew member of an accident-prone budget airline, one who proudly perpetuates the spirit of Marilyn Monroe. Simmering with raw emotions, this is a comedy about flying and reaching for the stars. How can Zocorro, masked Spanish ingénue, sustain the teasing sensuality demanded by the aviation business? Marilyn has the answer…

‘Zocorro is like a female Zorro, she wears a mask like his,’ Bethencourt tells me. ‘She’s from a small village in Spain and finds herself in different situations. In my previous show, Zocorro – Rose of Tralee, she infiltrated that contest by pretending to have Irish roots and this show is a different adventure in which she is committed to perpetuating the memory of Monroe on a budget airline.’

Bethencourt herself is Hispano-Irish, with her mother hailing from Strabane and her father from Madrid where she grew up. She expands on the character of Zocorro: ‘As a child, Zocorro took an overdose of iron tablets and was taken to hospital. Doctors were all around her, and she realised then how to be the centre of attention which is a big factor with her. Being an air hostess everyone has to listen to her so she enjoys that attention and also the safety and comfort of the passengers depends on her.’

‘She relates different adventures that happened with Marilyn Monroe Airlines– it has a lot of security issues, there is a good chance at any time that things will go wrong. The nervousness passengers might feel on the flight is like how Marilyn Monroe was unable to leave her trailer during film shoots because of stage fright.'”

UPDATE: You can read a review of the show here.

Marilyn: A Life On the Stage

Marilyn at the Actors Studio, 1955 (Photo by Roy Schatt)
Marilyn at the Actors Studio, 1955 (Photo by Roy Schatt)

In a thinkpiece for The Conversation, Margaret Hickey – a professor at Australia’s LaTrobe University, which ran an extension course on MM last year – asks an intriguing question: Would Marilyn’s career (and life) have been different if she had acted on stage?

“[The] drawn out Method approach is more conducive to a theatre production (which it was originally designed for) than a busy film set. The intimacy of the method, the focus on self, appealed to Monroe and she threw herself into it.

Much is made of Monroe’s drug addiction and famous lack of punctuality (few consider the similar behaviour of her co-stars and directors). But with the smaller budgets and longer rehearsal time of the theatre productions, she may have been less prone to the crippling anxiety attacks she increasingly suffered from.

Other stars of the era who managed the transition from ‘sex bomb film star’ to stage actor had a very different trajectory to Monroe. Elizabeth Taylor, Jayne Mansfield and Jane Russell, Monroe’s co-star in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, all grew tired of films that focused mainly on their figures and made the switch to stage.

A small role to begin with, an off-Broadway theatre with her Studio classmates, a lengthy rehearsal schedule – it might just have garnered Monroe the respect she craved.”

2016: A Year In Marilyn Headlines

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In January, exhibitions featuring Milton Greene and Douglas Kirkland’s photographs of Marilyn opened in London and Amsterdam. In New York, the Museum of Modern Art paid tribute to Marilyn’s choreographer, Jack Cole. Also this month, James Turiello’s book, Marilyn: The Quest for an Oscar, was published. And Edward Parone, assistant producer of The Misfits, died.

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In February, Marilyn ‘starred’ with Willem Dafoe in a Snickers commercial for the US Superbowl. Monroe Sixer Jimmy Collins’ candid photographs were sold at Heritage Auctions, and the touring exhibition, Marilyn: Celebrating an American Icon, came to Albury, Australia.

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Another major Australian exhibition, Twentieth Century Fox Presents Marilyn Monroe, featuring the collections of Debbie ReynoldsScott Fortner, Greg Schreiner and Maite Minguez Ricart – opened at the Bendigo Art Gallery in March. And Barbara Sichtermann’s book, Marilyn Monroe: Myth and Muse, was published in Germany.

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In April, a special edition of Vanity Fair magazine – dedicated to MM – was published. A campaign to save Rockhaven, the former women’s sanitarium where Marilyn’s mother Gladys once lived – was launched. And actress Anne Jackson – wife of Eli Wallach, and friend to Marilyn – passed away.

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In May, Marilyn graced the cover of a Life magazine special about ‘hidden Hollywood’, and Sebastien Cauchon’s novel, Marilyn 1962, was published in France. Cabaret singer Marissa Mulder’s one-woman show, Marilyn in Fragments, opened in New York, while Chinese artist Chen Ke unveiled Dream-Dew, a series of paintings inspired by Marilyn’s life story. The remarkable collection of David Gainsborough Roberts was displayed in London. Finally, Alan Young – the comedian and Mister Ed star, who befriended a young Marilyn – died.

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June 1st marked what would be Marilyn’s 90th birthday. Also in June, New Yorkers were treated to an Andre de Dienes retrospective, Marilyn and the California Girls. An exhibition of the Ted Stampfer collection, Marilyn Monroe: The Woman Behind the Myth, opened in Turin, Italy. A new documentary, Artists in Love: Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, was broadcast in the UK, while Australia honoured Marilyn with a commemorative stamp folder, and genealogists investigated Marilyn’s Scottish ancestry.

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In July, the birthday celebrations continued in Marilyn’s Los Angeles hometown with tributes from painter David Bromley, and another Greene exhibition. A new musical, Marilyn!, opened in Glendale. Rapper Frank Ocean appeared alongside a Monroe impersonator in a Calvin Klein commercial. And Marni Nixon, the Hollywood soprano who sang the opening bars of ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’, passed away.

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August 5th marked the 54th anniversary of Marilyn’s death. Also this month, it was announced that Seward Johnson’s ‘Forever Marilyn’ sculpture may return permanently to Palm Springs. April VeVea’s Marilyn Monroe: A Day in the Life was published, and Marilyn’s role in Niagara was featured in another Life magazine special, celebrating 75 years of film noir.

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In September, Marilyn: Character Not Image – an exhibition curated by Whoopi Goldberg – opened in New Jersey. Terry Johnson’s fantasy play, Insignificance, was revived in Wales. Two locks of Marilyn’s hair were sold by Julien’s Auctions for $70,000. And author Michelle Morgan published The Marilyn Journal, first in a series of books chronicling the Marilyn Lives Society; and A Girl Called Pearl, a novel for children with a Monroe connection.

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In October, Happy Birthday Marilyn – a touring showcase for the collection of Ted Stampfer – came to Amsterdam, while Marilyn: I Wanna Be Loved By You, a retrospective for some of her best photographers, opened in France. Marilyn Forever, Boze Hadleigh’s book of quotes, was published. Marilyn’s friendship with Ella Fitzgerald was depicted on the cult TV show, Drunk History. And on a sadder note, photographer George Barris, biographer John Gilmore, and William Morris agent Norman Brokaw all passed away this month.

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In November, Marilyn’s ‘Happy Birthday Mr President‘ dress was sold for a record-breaking $4.8 million during a three-day sale at Julien’s Auctions, featuring items from the David Gainsborough Roberts collection, the Lee Strasberg estate, and many others including the candid photos of Monroe Sixer Frieda Hull. Also this month, comedienne Rachel Bloom spoofed ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ in a musical sequence for her TV sitcom, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. And Marilyn Monroe: Lost Photo Collection, a limited edition book featuring images by Milton Greene, Gene Lester and Allan ‘Whitey’ Snyder, was published.

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Marilyn at Julien’s: Notes On Acting

Marilyn on the set for 'Let's Make Love' (Frieda Hull Collection)
Marilyn on the set of ‘Let’s Make Love’ (1960)

Among the many revelations to be found in the new Julien’s catalogue are a series of notes made by Marilyn on her work at the Actors Studio, where she once played Blanche DuBois in a scene from Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.

“A black board notebook with red spine containing lined notebook paper with notes in Monroe’s hand. A very large letter ‘M’ is drawn inside the front and back covers. There are multiple notes written in another hand on the first page of the book, but the next page contains notes in Monroe’s hand in pencil with ideas for a ‘Street Car Scene’ reading in part, ‘begin with ? (1st grade happening Mexican boy accuses me of hurting him – having to stay after school it was nite [sic] outside – have place – concern because of Stan K. accusations plus – getting dress for Mitch trying to look nice especially since what Stan K. has said.’ The note also suggests she hum ‘Whispering while you hover near me,’ which is a song standard found in her notebook of standards in the following lot, only the lyric is ‘Whispering while you cuddle near me.’ The front and back of the last page of the book contain notes from acting class, including ‘during exercise – lee said let the body hang’; ‘2 exercises at one time/ cold & Touch/ one might not be enough for what’s needed’; and ‘sense of oneself/ first thing a child (human being) is aware of (making a circle) touching ones foot knowing himself is separate from the rest of the world,’ among others.”

Leaving the Actors Studio, 1960 (Frieda Hull Collection)
Leaving the Actors Studio, 1960 (Frieda Hull Collection)

Marilyn also studied the role of Lorna Moon in Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy, writing her lines twice to memorise them.

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Also on offer is an undated note which reads in part, “keeping all of the changes of pantomime & grimaces etc inside, then it forces the eyes – it all comes through the eyes”; and “Constantly practicing that letting go/ in which you don’t do in life which isn’t necessary or something/ feeling how it feels and practicing that/your spirit speaks.”

Collaborators: Marilyn, Miller and Kazan

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Richard A. Schwartz, a Professor Emeritus at Florida International University and author of several books about the Cold War era, has published a new play, Collaborators: Elia Kazan, Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe. Beginning with the accidental death of a journalist on the eve of Marilyn’s 1956 wedding to Arthur, the action then looks back to their first meeting five years earlier, when he unsuccessfully pitched a movie to studio head Harry Cohn. Marilyn was casually dating Arthur’s friend and creative partner, Elia Kazan, at the time.

However, it was Arthur she fell for – it has often been rumoured that he continued corresponding with her after returning to his wife and children in New York. Using a split stage, Schwartz imagines what Arthur might have written to her, comparing his inner turmoil with her heady rise to fame (and ongoing association with Kazan.)

The other main strand of the drama is the very different responses of Miller and Kazan to the red-baiting era. Although it’s clear that both had long since left their youthful dabblings with communism far behind and posed no threat to national security, Kazan chose to inform on fellow travellers in the theatre, thereby saving his Hollywood career, while Miller – supported by Marilyn – refused to ‘name names’, and was ultimately vindicated as a liberal hero. Unsurprisingly, their alliance came under strain, and they didn’t work together again until after Marilyn’s death, on the controversial After the Fall.

The Millers’ marriage is portrayed in two scenes: the beginning is represented by Marilyn’s alleged discovery of unflattering comments in Arthur’s journal, during filming of The Prince and the Showgirl; while the end is marked by another heated argument during production of The Misfits. But that omits a long period of relative stability in Marilyn’s otherwise turbulent life. Perhaps Schwartz could have added a further scene to reveal Marilyn’s vulnerability, and show how painful experiences, like her multiple miscarriages, may have caused her depression.

As it is, Schwartz’s portrayal of a self-destructive Marilyn seems to echo Maggie, the suicidal star in Miller’s After the Fall. He is on safer ground with his male protagonists, and the trial scenes are compelling – perhaps because those events are a matter of public record, rather than private conjecture – and with careful revisions to his characterisation of Marilyn, Collaborators could be a genuinely provocative play.

For those interested in learning more about this topic, Barbara Leaming covered it in detail in her 2000 biography of Marilyn, and Ron Briley’s The Ambivalent Legacy of Elia Kazan will be published next month.

 

Marilyn, Joe, Einstein and McCarthy in Clwyd

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A new stage revival of Terry Johnson’s Insignificance (which was famously adapted for the screen in 1985), starring Sophie Melville as Marilyn, is currently playing at Theatr Clywd in North Wales until October 15, reports the Chester Chronicle.

Insignificance takes four iconic faces of the post Second World War era in America – Marilyn Monroe, her husband, New York Yankees baseball star Joe DiMaggio, physicist Albert Einstein and communist witch-hunter Senator Joe McCarthy – and explores their explosive interaction in an imagined meeting in a hotel room in New York in 1955.

Sophie said: ‘I’m thrilled to wear the white dress and play the part of Marilyn – it’s a dream, it really is. It’s been hard work because it’s the first time I’ve played a character who is a real person.’

‘I’ve tried to take on her quality but at the same time make the part my own rather than try to impersonate her. The main thing was getting the voice right and once I’d got that everything just fell into place.’

The show’s director Kate Wasserberg returns to Theatr Clwyd following her production of [Arthur Miller’s] All My Sons last year.

She said: ‘Insignificance is a play I’ve wanted to direct since I saw it at my local theatre when I was 12 or 13 years old. My dad took me along and thought we were going to see The Kiss of the Spiderwoman but it wasn’t on.

‘Even though I was very young, there are several moments from the play that are seared into my memory. I remember laughing a lot. It’s a play about politics, life, love and the stars. Terry Johnson’s work is incredibly intelligent, it works on several levels at once but, line for line, it’s properly funny. I read his plays and laugh out loud.'”

mailyn.jpg.gallery (1)Lew  Baxter gives Insignificance a rave review in the Wirral Globe

“This latest rather spiffing theatrical production directed by Kate Wasserberg in Mold demonstrates just how on several levels the confrontations and verbal jousting between the protagonists still has potent relevance that surprises and amuses.

It is in many ways an emotional rollercoaster particularly when embracing the emotional fragility and conflicts that shaped the relationship of Monroe and DiMaggio, never mind the manic nature of McCarthy whose demonising of America’s intelligentsia leaves a stain on that country’s contemporary history.

And Einstein, branded a Soviet stooge, was himself vulnerable and is here played with considerable aplomb by Brendan Charleson.

Wasserberg has completely nailed the essence of Johnson’s work, which is enhanced by a really top-notch cast: there is a chemistry that fizzes like a sparkler between all four participants and each has that magnetic attribute that engrosses those watching.

Sophie Melville, relatively fresh out of drama school, is simply sublime as Marilyn … here is – if you’ll pardon the pun – a pitch-perfect portrayal of Monroe’s passionate if rather unsophisticated spouse Di Maggio by Ben Deery.

The play begins, in this instance, with the soundtrack of David Bowie’s ‘Starman’, which under the circumstances is most appropriate … This is the kind of production that emphasises how live, breathing theatre, more so than film, can captivate an audience and keep them gripped to the last fading light.”

‘Marilyn & Sinatra’ in London

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Marilyn & Sinatra, an hour-long play with songs, is playing through this weekend at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre.  Here’s a selection of reviews…

“On the face of it, Marilyn is a gift: the sex symbol, the pills and drink, the suicide, the famous husbands and lovers … But it’s too much of a gift.  Writers and directors seem to feel that all they have to do it to put the life, or part of it, on the stage, and they have a hit show on their hands.” Traffic Light Theatregoer

“There appear to be a number of versions of the story of their relationship, though this play prefers to avoid being unnecessarily sensationalist. It is quite likely, given how private conversations are acted out on stage, that there was a modicum of artistic licence going on – the play never claims to be a verbatim account of who said what and when.” London Theatre 1

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“In his prologue to the audience, the writer and  director, Sandro Monetti, explains that the premise of the show was inspired by Monroe’s final moments spent listening to various Sinatra albums. The overall performance also benefits from its desire to connect with the audience, with the actors interacting with them while they sing hits made famous by both stars.” The Upcoming  

“A palpable lack of insightful direction remains a recurring problem with this show, as each character tends to stand (or sit) around on the side-lines while the other narrates dialogue that is both awkward and awkwardly delivered … Erin Gavin bears a passable resemblance to the star and does vulnerability well, even if her voice has an occasional sharp edge to it that Marilyn’s carefully nuanced delivery never did.” Theatreworld IM2

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“We are presented with two narrations, starting from the first falterings of Monroe’s marriage to Joe DiMaggio. In her spoken role, Erin Gavin captures the breathy, seductive tones that Monroe used on screen, although there is more devotion to the accent than to its volume, rendering some lines inaudible even within the tiny confines of the Jermyn Street Theatre. There are the signs of vulnerability there, despite Monetti’s clunkingly obvious script, and although her attempts to sing the actress’s trademark songs ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’ and ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ are beset with timing issues, one does wish that Gavin (a co-producer of this show) had better material with which to develop her impersonation.” Reviews Hub

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“It’s quite a moving  show … Not really a musical, this little piece is firmly a play with songs. And little is the operative word. It really is very short. Perhaps it would be better staged in a double bill with another short item.” Musical Theatre Review

“Marilyn Monroe’s story has been told on stage hundreds of times in dozens of different ways but her character is always compelling.  The play only just scratches the surface, never really delving deeply into what made Marilyn and Sinatra tick. It falls short of being truly emotional but is entertaining …” Bargain Theatreland