While we are all waiting for the Marilyn Monroe musical “Bombshell” to hit Broadway, we have “Norma Jeane: The Musical” to tide us over. Eighteen months before her death and just after her split from Arthur Miller, Norma Jeane is admitted to a mental clinic. She suffers from voices in her head, bordering on schizophrenia. The voices confront her with her past and ugly truths about the split between the media portrayal of glitzy Marilyn and her true troubled self. Slowly, she comes to terms with the roots of her illness. T L Shannon digs deep and manages to offer historical anecdotes and influential people in Marilyn’s life that people might not have heard about before. A remarkable achievement for an iconic topic that has been covered so often before; the show plays with the notion that we know Marilyn too well and yet, not at all. Having Marilyn portrayed by three actresses and featuring a dance ensemble makes not only for an entertaining show, but avoids the danger of being a cringey one woman show.
Shannon carefully dissects Monroe’s past and makes a plausible case for the psychological problems that haunted the star. In its weaker moments, the musical can be a tad on-the-nose, and some of the characters appear slightly irrelevant – maybe there is a reason why these people are widely disregarded and forgotten. Unfortunately, also the sound mixing seemed a little off – the music clearly too loud, the actors at times too soft when singing. The main actress duo makes up for these flaws. At the centre of the narrative are real-life Norma Jeane and her mind-image of glamourous, famous, incontestable Marilyn. Sarah Rose Denton is clearly the voice of the musical and does a great job of sensitively portraying the broken moviestar. Joanne Clifton, however, is Miss Monroe reincarnate – the likeness is eerie, and even in mannerisms she is spot-on. Her stage presence is staggering and her character’s cheeky sass the highlight of the play. A worthy nod to the iconic sex symbol on what would have been Monroe’s 90th birthday.
Reviewed by Lisa Theresa Downey-Dent
Photo: David Elms
Norma Jeane: The Musical plays at the LOST Theatre until 18 June 2016