When Sugar Came to Broadway

Elaine Joyce (Sugar) with ‘Josephine’ (Tony Roberts) and ‘Daphne’ (Robert Morse)

Ron Fassler, author of Up in the Cheap Seats: A Historical Memoir of Broadway, has written an article, ‘A Sprinkling of Sugar‘, about the musical theatre adaptation of Some Like It Hot. Written by Peter Stone, with music by Gentlemen Prefer Blondes composer Jule Styne and lyrics by Bob Merrill, Sugar was first produced at the Majestic Theatre on West 44th St, NYC, running for 505 performances from 1972-73, and has since become a firm favourite in regional theatre and with amateur dramatics societies everywhere.

Elaine Joyce as ‘Sugar’, with Tony Roberts as Joe

“David Merrick, a producer with an enviable track record, as well as a talent for alienating close to everyone he ever came in contact with, was the man behind figuring out a way to bring a musical version of Some Like It Hot to the Broadway stage — and it wasn’t easy …

Merrick optioned Fanfaren de Liebe, the German screenplay upon which Wilder and Diamond based Some Like It Hot. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t allow for Merrick to set the show in the Roaring Twenties, perfect for a musical, as that was an idea of Wilder and Diamond’s … But with Merrick not being the type to give up without a fight, he eventually nabbed the rights from United Artists to use Wilder and Diamond’s screenplay as the source for his musical.

When Sugar opened on Broadway forty-six years ago tonight at the Majestic Theatre, it featured a relative unknown, Elaine Joyce in the title part, the one first created by Marilyn Monroe in the film … Yet the show remained a bit of a disappointment creatively, even though it did good business.

As a teenager, I saw Sugar early in its run, and though intermittently entertaining on its own merits, the show was really all about the comedic skills, dazzling energy and one-of-a-kind charisma of Robert Morse. As Jerry and his female alter-ego, Daphne, Morse was the real deal.

Sugar’s impromptu pyjama party with Daphne (Robert Morse)

With Some Like It Hot’s status as a film classic not only undiminished over the years, but continuing to grow, there have been numerous attempts to revive Sugar’s fortunes, in hopes of it maybe one day finding its way back to Broadway. One was a 1992 London version with British favorite Tommy Steele, and another was a U.S. touring production in 2002 with Tony Curtis, this time in the Joe E. Brown role of Osgood, the randy millionaire.

Of course, both productions took on a new title: Some Like It Hot.”

Thanks to Jackie at Marilyn Remembered

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.”

Sunny Thompson on ‘Becoming Marilyn’

Becoming Marilyn Monroe, the new documentary about Sunny Thompson’s one-woman show (Marilyn: Forever Blonde), is set to have its world premiere at the American Documentary Film Festival in Palm Springs on April 10. Sunny recently spoke about her long-running stage role with Bruce Fessier of the Desert Sun.

“Why is Marilyn still fascinating more than 55 years after her death?

I think it has a lot to do with her softness. You can see it in her eyes in all of her photos … I have met young girls who came to the play and said they were big Marilyn fans and yet they had never seen a movie with Marilyn in it.  Only her photos! They had fallen in love with an image.

After 10 years, what did you learn that was most interesting about her?

Maybe how absolutely terrified she was facing the press and yet how charming and witty she was at answering their questions, like coming up with something engagingly clever.

Have you learned to turn the Marilyn character on and off the way Marilyn did?

Funny you mention that because I think I might have an inkling as to how Marilyn must have felt around people. She couldn’t really just be herself … People come up to me and say ‘You play Marilyn Monroe?’ And if I just say yes, they are disappointed. But if I light up and sparkle a bit, and give them a little Marilyn look, then they go away happy.

How would you describe Marilyn’s state of mind on the last day of her life? 

I lived that day on stage hundreds of times and I always felt Marilyn was feeling unloved and disillusioned. I play her reliving her life before an audience and deathly afraid that when her looks go and her body goes she will be nothing! I want to believe she didn’t purposely take her own life.”

Marilyn Musical Heads to Las Vegas

Marilyn! The New Musical, produced in association with ABG – the licensing wing of Marilyn’s estate – is coming to Las Vegas, NBC reports. A version of this show was first staged in Glendale, California back in 2016, but I understand there have been some personnel changes since then. As diehard fans will know, official approval is not always a guarantee of quality but let’s hope this will be an entertaining tribute.

“One of Hollywood’s most iconic stars is coming to the Las Vegas Strip in Marilyn! The New Musicalan original musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. The show will open at Paris Las Vegas with preview performances beginning May 23 and a grand opening June 1, just in time for Marilyn’s birthday. Written, directed and produced by Tegan Summer, CEO of Prospect House Entertainment, in partnership with Authentic Brands Group, owner of the Estate of Marilyn Monroe, the new musical will feature acclaimed Broadway actress Ruby Lewis as the resident Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn! The New Musical features 20 original musical numbers as well as classics like ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ and ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy,’ telling the story of one of the world’s most famous women, from her days as Norma Jeane overcoming a difficult childhood, to her meteoric rise to stardom and becoming one of the biggest and most enduring sex symbols of all time.

The Marilyn! cast includes the best talent that Broadway, Los Angeles and Las Vegas have to offer including: Brittney Bertier as Norma JeaneFrank Lawson as Charlie, Marilyn’s trusted driver, Travis Cloer as Milton GreeneChris Fore as Bill PurselRandal Keith as Darryl F. Zanuck, Christopher Showerman as Joe DiMaggioMatthew Tyler as Arthur MillerLindsay Roginski as Jane RussellUna Eggerts as Jayne Mansfield, and Chanel Edwards-Frederick as Ella FitzgeraldKelley Jakle will serve as the swing for Marilyn Monroe. In addition, the show anticipates a rotating cast of celebrity guest performers in the lead and supporting roles.'”

NBC Confirms Plans to Bring ‘Smash’ to Broadway

Katharine McPhee onstage in ‘Bombshell’, 2015

Plans to remake NBC’s Smash – the 2012 TV drama whose first season focused on the making of Bombshell, a fictitious stage musical about Marilyn – as a Broadway show were announced following a one-off performance of Bombshell back in 2015. Since then there have been occasional updates on the project, such as a Hollywood Reporter article from last year. And as NBC’s Robert Greenblatt confirms in the latest episode of Variety’s podcast, Stagecraft, those plans are still in the works – although it now appears that Bombshell will be re-incorporated into Smash, rather than as a stand-alone musical.

“Superfans and hate-watchers, take note: You may not have seen the last of Smash.

So says Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment … The 2012 series about New York theater people was a polarizing phenomenon among real-life New York theater people — ‘Smash may have invented the concept of hate-watching,’ Greenblatt jokes — but it’s still got a following. ‘Interestingly enough, I hear more about people loving Smash now than I ever did when it was on the air.’

Which is one of the reasons Greenblatt and the show’s team of creators and producers are exploring a future life for Smash beyond the Actors Fund concert staging of the original songs Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman wrote for Bombshell, the Broadway-show-within-the-show. “We’ve been thinking about different ways to think about a stage musical based on Bombshell or Smash,’ Greenblatt reveals. ‘That’s all I’ll say. There’s an incarnation which could sort of combine both. … You may not have seen the last of Smash yet. I think the next incarnation will be on stage.'”

Marilyn Onstage in Milan

The Last Tapes of Marilyn Monroe, a new play starring Italian actress Marianna Esposito, was staged in Milan last Saturday. While Marilyn’s alleged stream-of-consciousness tapes for Dr Ralph Greenson have never materialised, and detective John Miner’s self-proclaimed transcription is also highly questionable, the play – written and directed by Guilio Federico Janni – has nonetheless been praised by diehard fans, including Gianandrea Colombo who posted his review on the Marilyn Monroe – Italia Facebook group.

Marianna Esposito as Marilyn

“A well-written and sincere monologue, which ‘undressed’ Marilyn from the clichés of stupidity and frivolousness. Among ‘educated’ quotations – from Shakespeare to Joyce – Marianna Esposito cried and smiled, retracing the last hours of Marilyn through the ‘relationship’ with her therapist. Being in the front row, I was able to enjoy the skill of this actress whose strong point is a mime and intense expressiveness, the ability to pass from languid glances to inconsolable crying, to stage the same effervescence of the glass of sparkling wine that her Marilyn sips during the show, telling of life, love and cinema. Marianna Esposito crosses the border between actor and spectator with firmness, direct looks and a physicality exhibited without hesitation. A minimal setting, soft lighting and the magic of a play written and certainly acted ‘from the heart’, elevates the soul of the woman behind the mask of the myth.”

How Marilyn Helped Writer to Confront Abuse

Author Joy McCullough has revealed how a youthful fascination with Marilyn spurred her to write a play, and how her subsequent decision to volunteer at a YWCA helpline for sexual assault victims triggered memories of an abusive relationship with her high school pastor, in an article for Signature Reads.

Joy’s debut novel, Blood Water Paint, is based on the life of Artemisia Gentileschi, a 17th century painter who was raped in her teens, and after taking the perpetrator to court, expressed her rage in art. While some might say that Marilyn wasn’t an ideal role model for a self-harming adolescent, it may be that her own tragic history of sexual abuse and mental illness that started Joy on the long and painful journey towards confronting her own demons.

“I was fascinated by Marilyn Monroe – her life, her death, her sexuality, her victimization. The play I wrote about her won an award and was staged by the university.

In my apartment the next school year, I hung a poster of Marilyn gazing directly at the camera, wearing an enormous tulle skirt and clutching the bodice to her chest. I’d never articulated why Marilyn became an obsession. Like my gut need to volunteer for the YWCA, I had followed a driving instinct. But sitting alone in that room, staring at that poster, the connections became clearer.

With Marilyn gazing out at me, I wielded a knife against my own skin. I wanted to see blood – a visible, logical reason for the pain that only intensified the longer I tried to dismiss it.

I didn’t believe Marilyn had intentionally taken her own life, but however it ended, it had been in deep pain and loneliness. If I stayed alone in my room with only my knife and a poster of a long-dead film star for company, I could end the same way.”

‘Ms. Monroe’ Inspires Warsaw Radio

‘Ms. Monroe’, the new single from Brighton band Warsaw Radio (whose lead singer Brian McNamara hails from Limerick, Ireland), is inspired by Marilyn’s relationship with Arthur Miller, as Eric Lalor reports for JOE.ie. Taken from their debut album, Midnight Broadcast, ‘Ms. Monroe’ doesn’t mention the couple directly, but its lyrics evoke doomed love and the video’s use of found footage enhances the retro feel.

“The narrative imagines Monroe giving advice on relationships after the break down of her relationship with Miller when they were filming what would be Monroe’s last film (The Misfits) in Reno, Nevada … McNamara’s vocals have rarely sounded better … It’s a cracker from start to finish and would leave you wanting to hear more.”

UPDATE: In an interview with the Connacht Tribune, Brian McNamara revealed the inspiration behind the song…

“About two years I went to see a play about Marilyn Monroe at the Brighton Fringe Festival. I didn’t know anything about her, other than she was a movie star. I came home that night and started writing that song. A few days later it was finished. At the time we were recording our album and I was exploring this way of writing where you try to get other people’s perspective.”

Marilyn Meets Helen of Troy in NYC

Marilyn by Cecil Beaton, 1956

The first season at The Shed, a new multi-arts centre opening at the Hudson Yards next year, will include Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, an intriguing collaboration depicting Marilyn as the Spartan queen famed in Greek mythology, whose incomparable beauty was said to have sparked the Trojan War, as Andrew R. Chow reports for the New York Times.

“On Wednesday, the Shed’s artistic director, Alex Poots, revealed the first batch of commissions for the Hudson Yards venue’s inaugural season.

The ambitious, genre-melding performances will begin in the spring of 2019, and include a musical series conceived by Steve McQueen and Quincy Jones and a collaboration between the poet Anne Carson, the actor Ben Whishaw and the opera singer Renée Fleming.

A newly commissioned piece by Ms. Carson entitled Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, based on Euripides’ Helen, will be shown in the venue’s more intimate theater space. (The play draws a line between Helen and Marilyn Monroe, who was baptized as Norma Jeane Baker.)

‘I asked Ann, Would you ever consider writing a dramatic monologue for a performer?’ Mr. Poots recalled. ‘Within six to nine months, she sent me the first draft and said: ‘I’ve written this for Ben Whishaw. And he’ll do it.’ Mr. Whishaw will perform it with Ms. Fleming.”

‘Becoming Marilyn Monroe’ in Palm Springs

Of all the Marilyn-inspired plays staged in recent years, Marilyn: Forever Blonde – a one-woman show starring Sunny Thompson – is perhaps the only one to win the hearts of fans as well as critical acclaim. And now Becoming Marilyn Monroe, Tammy Plimmer’s new hour-long documentary about the making of a star tribute, will have its premiere on April 10 at the Camelot Theatre in Palm Springs, as part of the American Documentary Film Festival.

“In 1952, a 10-year-old boy falls in love with a picture of Marilyn Monroe on the cover of a magazine. 47 years later he marries her. This improbable true story of a successful producer of musical revues who discovers a young girl from a small town in Northern Minnesota, marries her, and makes her the star of his one-woman theatrical tribute to Hollywood’s most famous star, Marilyn Monroe. This results in an award-winning, critically-acclaimed theatrical play with music, Marilyn Forever Blonde.”