Thursday, 2 June 2016

Review Norma Jeane: The Musical

Francis Beckett finds a musical based on a screen icon's real life incarceration in a psychiatric clinic fails to live up to expectations, despite a committed cast. 

Norma Jeane: The Musical
Book by TL Shannon
Music and Lyrics Anton Mullan, Ali Isabella, Andy Street, David Martin, Mike Daniels, Geoff Cotton and Orna Klement 

Her Heart Belonged To Daddy 

Towards the end of Norma Jeane: The Musical, there's a laugh-out-loud scene when a doctor, played by Hugo Joss Catton, is trying to gauge the patient Marilyn Monroe’s mental health, and her two unseen alter egos – Marilyn as teenager, Marilyn as film star – are prompting her.

I mention it now because it is almost the only genuinely funny moment in what is otherwise a carefully written, thoughtfully researched, professionally performed, but at the same time dreadfully uninspired show.

It doesn't offer much entertainment, it doesn't tell the Marilyn Monroe story, and it doesn't tell us much we don’t already know. A lot of it seems designed to suggest she spent much of her short life subconsciously seeking the father she never had, which is hardly an original idea.

The musical, directed by Christopher Swann with musical direction by Alex Bellamy and choreography by Adam Scown, is set in her room in a mental hospital in 1961. The concept is that, rather like Wiliam Shakespeare’s Richard III on the night before the Battle of Bosworth, Marilyn Monroe (Joanne Clifton) is visited there by demons, the voices of those she has known and wronged.

Enter her two alter egos, Ruth Betteridge as the younger and Sarah Rose Denton as the older Norma Jeane, her mother Gladys, two of her three husbands Jim Dougherty, Joe DiMaggio (but not, oddly, Arthur Miller, who was surely more cut out for the role of father figure than either of the two others), and other assorted figures from her past. 

While it leads inevitably to our being told a lot of things that we ought to be shown instead, it’s not a bad format,. But it needs to lead somewhere, to advance a new theory, to develop the characters, or at least to keep us on the edge of our seats wondering what will happen, and it does none of those things. 

The songs also need to bounce a bit, but with one exception – a song in which a man insists that he is not Marilyn’s father – they are instantly forgettable.

With so little character development, the cast have little chance to shine, though it’s only fair to say that they all do what they can with conviction and professionalism. 

Joanne Clifton, Sarah Rose Denton and Ruth Betteridge as the three Marilyns produce solid performances, though Joanne Clifton’s singing voice is not always powerful enough to be heard above the music. 

I hate being curmudgeonly, especially about a show which I understand has been some years in the making and into which much effort has evidently been poured, but the very best I can stretch to is an amber light.

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