The allure of Marilyn Monroe seems undying. Despite countless books, movies and stories about her, the public fascination is far from ending—even for those members of the public too young to remember her during her all too short life.
They and others have a chance to see Marilyn “live,” though, in the show Marilyn: Forever Blonde!, now onstage at the Asolo Rep through July 10. The screen sex symbol is embodied by actress Sunny Thompson, who’s been playing the role in this one-woman show for quite a while now and definitely has it nailed.
Sunny Thompson as Marilyn Monroe. With the aid of make-up, costumes (which she slips into behind a fairly transparent onstage screen) and hairstyle, Thompson manages to look quite a bit like Marilyn, and she sounds like her, too, with that familiar breathy, girlish voice that magically combined innocence and pure sex. From her first moments, with the film star supposedly posing for her last photo shoot and “talking” to both a disembodied photographer and us, Thompson is engaging and convincing. We like her Marilyn, even when she quite honestly reveals how as a young starlet she tried to climb the ladder of Hollywood success by sleeping with/servicing movie producers.
We get a sense of Marilyn as the very young Norma Jean, a foster child who found comfort and a dream while sitting alone in darkened movie theaters every Sunday. In her own words (accompanied by some of the songs Marilyn made famous, like Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend), we follow her story of suddenly burgeoning into a young woman, her early marriage, her first real shot at making a breakthrough in movies (with John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle), and, eventually, her later marriages to athlete Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller.
For the most part, playwright Greg Thompson provides us with scenes that don’t just necessarily tell us a chronological story, but work to really bring out Marilyn’s emotions. But what’s missing here is much of the darker side of Marilyn’s life. We frequently see her sipping champagne, but we never see her popping the pills that led to her death, or learn anything about her years in therapy. Marilyn entertains us, she reaches our hearts, but we don’t see the steady progression of her mental or physical collapse. Thompson does her best to give us some of that in her final scene, which, fittingly, takes place in the bed that occupies center stage—for Marilyn, the bedroom was her territory, for better or for worse, in life and in death.
We may wish for that more complete drama, but as is, you’re bound to be impressed with Thompson’s remarkable performance. For tickets, call 351-8000 or go to asolorep.org.