Friday, June 24, 2011

REVIEW: 'Marilyn: Forever Blonde' heats up Asolo Rep

Sunny Thompson as Marilyn Monroe/PUBLICITY PHOTO

Nearly five decades after her death, Marilyn Monroe remains one of America’s most powerful — and fascinating — pop culture icons. “Marilyn: Forever Blonde,” now playing at the Asolo Repertory Theatre, offers an intimate, multifaceted portrait of the quintessential sex symbol. Billed as “the Marilyn Monroe story in her own words and music,” it brilliantly humanizes the highly objectified actress, singer and model.

Set on the day of Monroe’s final photo shoot with an unseen photographer heard in voice-over, the one-woman show stars Sunny Thompson. The curtain rises and she’s seen posing in bed, wrapped in satin sheets. From that moment forward — through various costume changes — it’s as if you are in the same room as the Hollywood legend.

Thompson’s impersonation is stunning.

And it’s not just about the way she moves her hips and handles the star’s other signature gestures. Thompson nails the various voices Monroe would adopt when speaking in private, to the media, on screen as the voluptuous vixen or playing the “dumb blonde.” Thompson’s pitch perfect in the singing department, too.

Written by husband Greg Thompson, the show deftly uses songs Monroe performed in her films to propel the story. For instance, the opening number “Ev’ry Baby Needs a Daddy” coincides with the star admitting to sleeping with photographers and producers to get work early in her career. “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” closes the first of two acts, right at the point when Monroe reflects on her glory days. Thompson sings “I’m Through with Love” while appearing convincingly intoxicated and showing the star at her most vulnerable.

Much of “Marilyn: Forever Blonde” is salacious. And there are plenty of laugh-out-loud one-liners as well as humorous anecdotes. But what makes the show truly memorable is the way the Thompsons capture the pathos of the orphan who became the ultimate sexy symbol and then died of a barbiturate overdose at the age of 36. It’s a tragic story handled with skill and class, offering a fitting tribute to the woman, who, like the songs goes, we all would have liked to have known.

If you go.

My interview with Sunny Thomspon, which ran June 12 as "Marilyn Monroe lives ‘forever’ at Asolo Rep."

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