Downstage Theatre
March 26-April 19 | Reviewed by Helen Sims

Marilyn: Forever Blonde captures Marilyn Monroe as her star is beginning to fade. A voice over tells us it is 1962 and Monroe has turned up to a photo shoot upset and wanting to share the details of her life following the collapse of her third marriage and filming on her latest movie. She is both candid and coy as she relates her story, “in her own words” as the programme proclaims, as well as singing some of her famous songs.

I had very mixed feelings on leaving Marilyn: Forever Blonde. On the one hand it was immaculately produced, with a fine set and fabulous costume design by Mimi Countryman and Alice Worthy. Sunny Thompson, as Marilyn Monroe/Norma Jean Baker was excellent in her portrayal of the actress, singer and bombshell. I liked that they did not portray Marilyn as an unwitting victim, but instead as a woman with ambitions and canniness. However, it left me quite unmoved. I came away feeling as if I had seen an incredibly accurate impersonation of Marilyn Monroe and been read her Wikipedia entry. In short, this show added nothing new to what I had learnt in terms of biographical information on the star, and didn’t really use the theatrical form to bring a new dimension to considering her life and her fate. Perhaps I should have been warned by the prize giveaway announced prior to the show.

Despite excellent set design by Jason Phillips, the use of the stage was quite limited and at times the performance felt a little static – I wondered if Thompson was moving to get close to microphones for the songs. The most interesting point in the show came in the speech delivered once Thompson has wiped her face clean of make up – she comes close to laying her soul bare. But it really is too late to redeem the flippancy of the rest of the play.

Marilyn: Forever Blonde is therefore, fairly solidly produced but ultimately lightweight entertainment. It features famous songs and looks gorgeous. For Monroe fans it would be a worthwhile night out. However, it won’t challenge. It doesn’t transcend the boundaries of popular and pre-existing biographical information. There’s a fair amount of style to this show, but it adds little in way of substance, theatrically or biographically.