A new play about the real-life love affair of two American icons fails to get under their skin and, Francis Beckett finds, relies on celebrity status rather than dramatic insight.
Marilyn & Sinatra
by Sandro Monetti
They Did It Their Way
The tiny Jermyn Street Theatre tucked away in the heart of London's West End seems to make a speciality of interesting showbiz retrospectives.
Some years ago that I saw NF Simpson’s last play there, written in the great absurdist’s nineties, shortly before his death, his first play for decades.
A while before that, I had an entertaining and interesting evening there hearing Stefan Bednarczyk revive Flanders and Swann. And their next production is to be a revival of a really interesting period piece, The Dover Road, by AA Milne, the creator of Christopher Robin.
So why does Marilyn & Sinatra directed by writer Sandro Monetti – on the face of it, just Jermyn Street’s sort of show – offer neither entertainment nor insight?
Partly, I think, it’s the subject matter. This is the second show about the life of Marilyn Monroe I’ve seen this year, and the other one - Norma Jeane: The Musical at the Lost Theatre – didn’t work either.
On the face of it, Marilyn is a gift: the sex symbol, the pills and drink, the suicide, the famous husbands and lovers – Jack and Bobby Kennedy, Arthur Miller, Joe DiMaggio, Frank Sinatra. But it’s too much of a gift. Writers and directors seem to feel that all they have to do it to put the life, or part of it, on the stage, and they have a hit show on their hands.
If there is an insight in this one, it’s that Marilyn played Sinatra records the night she died, which indicates she was probably in love with him. That’s enough to sustain a paragraph in a biography, but not a whole stage show – even just an hour long one, like this.
The show tells the story of Monroe and Sinatra’s romance, such as it is, and strings it together with some instantly recognisable songs, some of which we associate with Sinatra. (And some we don't. I wondered what Rodgers & Hammerstein's Some Enchanted Evening was doing there. Mr Google tells me that Sinatra did sing it once. Not a lot of people know that.)
The two actors, Erin Gavin (Footballers' Wives) as Monroe and Jeff Bratz (an America's Got Talent alumnus) as Sinatra, do the best they can to lift it, but in such a small, intimate venue like the Jermyn Street Theatre you can’t disguise the fact that they both look wrong.
Bratz has a nice singing voice, and it’s a pleasure to hear him sing songs we know well, but he doesn’t look a bit like Sinatra, and he sounds much too simple and straightforward.
Gavin is nice looking in a completely different way from Monroe, and it’s painful to watch her caricature of the Monroe sex appeal and the famous Monroe wiggle. And any performance would be fatally wounded by her blonde wig, which looks like tangled white wire superglued to her head.
I can’t recommend this, I fear: it’s a red light. But I’ll trot along to their next show. I have high hopes of The Dover Road.