Must Close Saturday: The Decline and Fall Of The British Musical Flop, a new book by Adrian Wright, covers the short-lived 1983 show, Marilyn! The Musical. It failed to win over critics and closed after 156 performances, but its talented star, Stephanie Lawrence, won critical acclaim and that year’s Best Actress award from the Variety Club of Great Britain, as well as a nomination for the Society of West End Theatre awards (now known as the Laurence Olivier awards.)
“The show was intended as a tribute to another popular icon who died young, but it failed to capture the public imagination,” Michael Billington wrote in The Guardian. “The one person who emerged with credit was Stephanie Lawrence. She not only captured the externals of Marilyn Monroe – the wiggle, the walk, the passionate pout, the vocal breathiness – but conveyed the carmined innocence and soft vulnerability within. It should have been her passport to fame but the show failed to live up to its star.”
Her performance is fondly remembered by Monroe fans, and in 1995, she released an album, Marilyn: The Legend, featuring songs from the musical as well as covers of Monroe tracks. Stephanie, who also starred in more successful musicals including Evita, Starlight Express and Blood Brothers and acted on film and television, died suddenly in 2000. Michael Billington described her as “an actress of rare glamour” and “a pillar of British musical theatre”, who nonetheless “never fully achieved the 40-carat stardom that came to her no-more talented peers.”
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
“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
“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
“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
As I have often observed on this blog, plays about Marilyn are becoming a staple of fringe drama. Few have managed to rise from obscurity, but MARILYN! – a new musical previewing for one night only at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, California on July 29 – has impressive credentials, as Broadway World reports.
“The one-evening-only July 29 event, celebrates the life Marilyn Monroe with a short documentary film featuring Monroe’s former boyfriend Bill Pursel, Monroe’s Bus Stop co-star Don Murray, Monroe author, Michelle Morgan, President of ‘Marilyn Remembered’ Greg Schreiner, and Actors Studio classmate, James Karen, among other key figures.
Audience members will be treated to an exclusive collection of Monroe’s artifacts from Schreiner’s personal collection at a pre-show reception. But the highlight of the evening is the world premiere of the full length musical MARILYN!, which chronicles the star’s childhood and tumultuous path to stardom with stirring and emotional songs …
Prospect House Entertainment is also pleased to announce a collaboration with Hollygrove, formerly Los Angeles Orphan Home, where Marilyn Monroe stayed as a child. Hollygrove will receive a percentage of the event’s proceeds in perpetuity. MARILYN! additionally holds the distinction of being produced with the blessing of the Marilyn Monroe Estate.
MARILYN! Is set in the present day – Michelle is a young journalist from England researching Marilyn Monroe to commemorate the actress’ 90th birthday. She visits Charlie Page, one of Marilyn’s drivers, who is now living a life of solitude. Two stories emerge as Charlie bonds with Michelle he recalls Marilyn Monroe’s phenomenal life in flashback and reveals the real reason behind his living as a recluse for over forty years…
MARILYN! stars Kelley Jakle (Universal’s Pitch Perfect and Pitch Perfect 2, Spring Awakening in Concert) as ‘Marilyn Monroe’; Kelley Dorney (PBS Concert Special: A Tale of Two Cities) as ‘Norma Jeane’; Samantha Stewart (CBS’ Days of Our Lives) as ‘Michelle Morgan’; and Marvin Gay as ‘Charlie Paige’.”
Heat Wave: The Jack Cole Project – a musical tribute to Marilyn’s choreographer, Jack Cole – will receive its world premiere from May 3-20 at the Queen’s Theatre, Corona Park, NYC, Playbill reports today.
‘Produced by Queens Theatre, Heat Wave is “an all-singing, all-dancing tribute to the work of Jack Cole, featuring recreations of more than two dozen Cole numbers from such films as ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business,’ ‘Kismet,’ ‘Les Girls’ and ‘On the Riviera,’ as well as new pieces choreographed in Cole’s inimitable style,” according to Queens Theatre notes.’
Sugar, a stage musical based on Some Like It Hot, is now playing at the Drury Lane Theater in Chicago until August 1st, with Jennifer Knox reviving Marilyn’s role.