48. SIREN’S HEART: NORMA JEAN AND MARILYN IN PURGATORY
This one-woman show, whose program offers what might be yet another subtitle (Norma Jean Sings Songs Marilyn Never Sang), and seems to have been around somewhere or other since 2011, is not the Marilyn Monroe musical you’ve been waiting for and that TV’s SMASH failed to deliver. It’s a second-rate enterprise that imagines Marilyn talking to us about her life and loves from Purgatory, with Louisa Bradshaw doing an impression of Marilyn that works about 10 per cent of the time.
Perhaps she was a bit more svelte two years ago (the program photos certainly suggest this), but the formfitting dresses Ms. Bradshaw wears do not do her any favors, and her attempt to replicate Marilyn’s vocal and facial idiosyncrasies have been done better by drag queen Monroe impersonators. Ms. Bradshaw’s acting, sad to say, makes Monroe look like Helen Mirren by comparison, especially with her amateurish tendency to suck in her breath in phony chuckles on three-quarters of her lines. Wherever director Lissa Moira has gone, it’s time for her to come back and caffeinate this drearily dull performance.
The show’s music mixes segments of songs Marilyn sang in the movies (like “I Want to Be Loved by You") with new songs written by Walt Steppe, who also wrote the play. It was astonishing to note that three have lyrics borrowed from William Butler Yeats and one from Gerard Manley Hopkins. There are also a couple of completely original numbers, such as “The Shiksa Strip.” (Well, the venue is the Actors Temple Theatre, after all). The new lyrics don’t challenge the poetry of Yeats and Hopkins, an example being: “I know it wasn’t your decision, I’m in love with your circumcision.” Ms. Bradshaw, accompanied on the piano by Gregory Nissen, sings the more familiar material in a manner reminiscent of Monroe, but uses a full-out personal style for the others that is often flat and mostly unmemorable.
As with most shows at this theatre, which houses several at once, the scenery is barebones minimal, consisting of a white Victorian couch, a coffee table, a wig table, a full-length mirror, and fuzzy photos of Marilyn entertaining the troops in Korea, Kim Novak, Rita Hayworth, Marlene Dietrich, Orson Welles, Yves Montand, and Elvis Presley mostly hanging from black drapes. Hand-held photos show us Peter Lawford and Arthur Miller, but I didn’t catch any of Joe DiMaggio.
Marilyn’s story, familiar from so many books and documentaries, is told by Ms. Bradshaw as she dons and doffs a blonde Marilyn wig several times, and at one point puts on a black wig to briefly portray Jane Russell. For a surprising amount of time the actress either shows her own blonde hair or simply wears the unattractive stocking cap over which she will place a wig. Those who know Marilyn Monroe’s story will pick up most of the references, but others, mostly younger folk, will probably not have a clue about any of the people and movies mentioned, no matter how enormously famous or popular they once were.
I looked at my watch too many times during the performance of this intermissionless hour and a half show. And since I don’t want to have you looking at yours while reading this, I’ll keep the rest to myself and hope you make good use of the time I’m saving you.