Marilyn: Forever Blonde

Downstage Theatre, Wellington

26/03/2008 - 19/04/2008

Bruce Mason Centre, Auckland

06/03/2008 - 16/03/2008

Production Details

DIRECT FROM AMERICA – experience two hours of intimacy with the actress who convinces you that she really is Marilyn Monroe. This is not an impersonator, but award-winning American actress Sunny Thompson, reprising the role that has heightened her to star status in America. In Boston reviewer Howie Green wrote: "I know that Marilyn Monroe died 45 years ago. I know that, BUT no one is going to convince me that the woman I spent 2 hours watching on stage last night was not Marilyn Monroe. I saw Marilyn Monroe." New Zealand producer Stewart Macpherson was at that same performance and concurs.

Playwright Greg Thompson has created a theatrical vehicle for his wife Sunny, entirely from the words of Marilyn Monroe, incorporating many of her most famous songs, including the world‑famous classic "Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend".

It is 1962 and Marilyn Monroe is in the midst of a photo shoot. She is 36 years old and while she is still beautiful, she has lost a little of the girlish charm of her early twenties that made her one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Divorced for a third time and living alone, frustrated by glamour and glitter and tired of the label "sex symbol", Marilyn longs to be respected for her talent. She wants to be loved for who she really is rather than the character she has created for the silver screen and wonders what it would be like to do it all over again. So she takes us on this retrospective of her life, until …

MARILYN: FOREVER BLONDE opens at Bruce Mason Centre in Auckland on Thursday  6 March then Downstage Theatre in Wellington on Wednesday 26 March at 7.30 pm and has a limited season until mid-April before returning to the USA for more performances. or

MARILYN: FOREVER BLONDE is directed by Stephanie Shine, Artistic Director of the Seattle Shakespeare Company.

Auckland:  Bruce Mason Centre:  6 Mar – 16 March:  Ticketmaster:  (09) 970 9700
Wellington:  DownStage:  26 Mar – 19 April:  DownStage:  (04) 801 6946 

Charming Marilyn

Review by Lynn Freeman 07th Apr 2008

Poor Marilyn Monroe – desperate to be taken seriously as an actress yet held captive by the male fantasy stereotype she created to find fame. Like a candle in the wind, indeed.
Greg Thompson has written a biopic for the stage, from her childhood to premature death.  For those like me who knew little beyond the highly publicised facts – her blonde beauty, fragility, breathless voice, overwhelming sexuality, film roles, failed marriages – this fills in many of the

Sunny Thompson is gorgeous and moving as the mercurial Marilyn, deserving of the many praises heaped upon her by American critics. She captures Monroe’s many conflicts – her vulnerability and realisation that sleeping her way to the top was part of the fame game, her childish naivety and unnerving self-awareness.

Thompson is the part too, looking amazing in the jaw-dropping costumes.

The script is based on Monroe’s own words, and that’s fascinating in its own right. Because behind the dumb blonde was a woman who knew her strengths and limitations, who could quote Yeats, and who yearned be taken seriously as an actress and was prepared to work hard to achieve that.

There is just a bit too much script and music crammed into the first half of this solo show, which is slow to start and to build.  The dazzling white set is scrunched into the Downstage space.  But these aren’t capital offences in a production performed so charmingly.


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“For a moment Monroe is almost a real woman”

Review by Fiona Clark 28th Mar 2008

Norma Jean Baker/Marilyn Monroe was, as it turns out, a marketing genius. She created one of the world’s most astounding, captivating and lasting brands.

That Andy Warhol coloured print of Monroe, lips open in half-pout half-smile, eyes almost asleep, ears heavy with diamonds, is probably more recognisable to us than the flags of most African countries. The image of her clutching coyly at her white dress as the wind from a sewer grate lifts it, or the sound of her childish voice singing Happy Birthday to JFK, are iconic – today they feel nostalgic, they’re something to do with a lost golden era in Hollywood, a lost innocence in America.

But here’s the deal: Monroe was a brand. The very character was a carefully constructed personality Norma Jean Monroe took great care in creating, maintaining and selling. She was by many accounts an incredibly intelligent, quick witted and self aware woman. So is it strange that Marilyn, Forever Blonde is told, not by Norma Jean, but by Monroe? Here it is the character of Monroe who narrates Monroe’s life, her various affairs, her desire to be famous (and the subsequent desire to be ordinary) her disappointments, and her death. In fact the production is delivered using words Marilyn said herself (half the fun for devout Monroeites might be recognising their favourite quotes as they flash up in the re-contextualised world of Greg Thompson’s script).

The audience is never outside of Monroe-as-brand; all the tragedies of her personal life are delivered using her public persona. Sunny Thompson, star of the one woman show, is playing Monroe the actress as much as she is playing the historical truth of her personality. All of this raises questions about how we as a viewing public could ever separate the persona of Marilyn from her reality. In this sense it is not a show that goes behind Marilyn and looks for some kind of "authentic" woman. Instead what this show does, very successfully, is deepen our relationship with the brand of a woman who famously thanked whoever the man was who gave us high heels.

The show takes place in the intimate setting of Monroe’s bedroom and apartment. Fantastically lit using, in part, the rig of a professional photography studio, the centre of the white set is a double bed, covered in white silk sheets. It’s appropriate given Monroe’s status as a sex symbol. It sets up the space as alluring, as a "behind the scenes" look, although all at once we’re aware that as part bed, part scene of a photo-shoot, we are never really allowed behind the scenes. Even the set’s fake bathtub is drawn attention to as Monroe ends a scene by climbing unexpectedly out of the tub fully clothed, glass of champagne in hand, and turning to the audience to announce "well, it’s fake you know".

This show rests, of course, on Sunny Thompson’s ability to inhabit her role, and consistently maintain its energy. But the subtle aspect of her performance, the note that gives the show a necessary depth, is really her deft handling of inconsistency. With the help of her husband’s script Sunny drifts from the young, excited, ambitious character of Monroe’s earliest marriage (at just sixteen, and to avoid going to the tenth in a series of foster homes), to the lonely Monroe of three divorces; she shifts between the girl who happily utilises her sexuality to get castings and contracts, and the woman who understands that she has made herself a toy, that she has no choice but to be sexy, that she is defined by, and has succeeded because of, sex, and not talent.

The Monroe of the final scene, unable to have children, and aware that over time her looks will fade, is miles away from the woman who occupied the stage when the lights went up on scene one. Gradually the clicking of photographer flashes becomes tiresome, as do the poses. The songs slow down. The audience realises that this is where Monroe is most exposed, a brand in crisis, risking wash-up. For a moment Monroe is almost a real woman. Then, predictably, she dies. She dies before reality can catch her. Some people will have you believe that the Kennedy’s had her poisoned. It will surely baste the proverbial turkey of any Monroe fan.  Most importantly, though, the show leaves "Marilyn" almost untouched, a little softer, a little tragic, an iconic pioneer of the appalling indulgence and stupidity and wonder of Hollywood stardom.


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Fine performance but material wanting

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 28th Mar 2008

"I’ve never met anyone as utterly mean as Marilyn Monroe. Nor as utterly fabulous on the screen. And that includes Garbo," said Billy Wilder.

"She’s not only different, she’s smart," said Jack Lemmon of Marilyn.

"A short way into filming, my humiliation had reached such depths I would not have believed possible," said Laurence Olivier on directing her.

Greg Thompson’s two act solo play with music Marilyn: Forever Blonde! is told in her own words taken from interviews, newsreels, and recorded comments. His script, however, is a one-dimensional account of Marilyn’s unhappy life and reveals little that most film buffs won’t already know.

Her personal life as well as the iniquities of the studios, the pitfalls of fame and the loneliness of the stars in the heavens and those on earth (a brief scene designed to tug at the heart strings) are all dealt with frankly and occasional moments of humour.

"Being a movie star was never as much fun as dreaming of being one," she says wistfully near the end as she sits at her dressing table wiping off her make-up to reveal the lonely, exploited woman behind the star image we all know so well.

It desperately needs to be energized by insights such as the three quoted at the beginning, so that we get a different perspective from the all too familiar "I could have any man but no one wanted the real me" or "I want to be respected as an actress," or  "I started as a dumb blonde whore. I’ll end as one."

The irony is that while she said she just wanted to be wonderful she doubted if she ever was or ever could be, she was wonderful when Hollywood provided her with material that allowed her to shine within her, admittedly narrow, range of comedy in such films as Bus Stop, How To Marry a Millionaire, The Seven Year Itch and, of course, Some Like It Hot. 

And the saving grace of Marilyn: Forever Blonde! is the wonderful performance of Sunny Thompson who uncannily captures Marilyn’s breathy, baby voice, her impish humour, her gurgling laugh, her famous undulating walk, her sexy postures and her enjoyment of her femininity. 

It’s a complete performance: at its most moving when she sings I’m through with love with an unnerving depth and at its most dynamic when she finishes the first half with a rousing Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.


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This is not a review

Review by John Smythe 27th Mar 2008

This is a place-holder for the Wellington Season, so that other reviews can be added. My invitation to review this production was withdrawn. Here’s what happened:

Stewart (Stetson Group, the NZ producer) forwarded an email from Greg (writer / US producer), who regarded Kate’s review of the Auckland season as "cheap shots". Stewart called the review "unkind" and claimed it had "caused considerable angst amongst the company, and the Bruce Mason Centre management". 

We pointed out that they were very welcome to post their views as Comments or even start a Forum about it. To date they have not availed themselves of this opportunity. The point was also made that Theatreview routinely publishes a wide range of views and opinions and therefore claims no "sanctity of the press"; the whole site operates as an open conversation.

I went on to express my full support for Kate’s review, thus: "[It] reflects the possible hopes and expectations of many for whom [Marilyn Monroe] remains an enigma, and who may come to the show hoping for/expecting some insight into the unanswered questions. That she (and the Herald reviewer, as it happens) suggests it’s best not to come with that expectation is certainly part of the service we should provide to theatre-goers. As I read the review(s), those happy to spend time with the MM we already know will clearly not be disappointed and are likely to be impressed."

I also said they were welcome to withdraw their invitation for me to review the Downstage season, whereupon Stewart emailed: "Greg has asked me to advise that he is pleased to accept your offer to NOT review the play in Wellington." In acknowledging this I added I would have to come up with, "some way of explaining to Theatreviewers why we are not covering the Wellington season, as many rely on the site to tell/remind them what is on." Hence this piece.

When I conveyed my wish to purchase one of the returned comps, so that I would be better informed as to the nature of the show, the Stetson producers offered it as a comp on the understanding I would not be reviewing it (which is a shame because for all its self-imposed limitations, it does include an exquisite performance).

The reviews of Laurie (Dominion Post) , Lynn (Capital Times) and any others (e.g. Lumiere Reader) will be added to this ‘place holder’ once they have been published in their own domains.


Siouxsannah April 24th, 2008

As someone who knows quite a bit about Marilyn Monroe's life, I found this to be an enlightening and rewarding theatre experiene. Sunny brought Marilyn to life and she became a real woman beyond the screen image that we are familiar with. It was captivating, humourous and some of the best theatre I have ever seen. Considerable work by all involved for what is essentially a two hour solo performance.

Greg Thompson April 5th, 2008

Marilyn doing you're talking John! Great idea! I'll share it with our director, Stephanie Shine who just happens to be the artistic director for the Seattle Shakespeare Company. Thanks for the suggestion.

John Smythe April 4th, 2008

Lovely to hear from you, Greg – and e.v. – that’s what this website is here for. I make no apology for correcting the misspelling and the fact that this has been done remains on the record. Websites have the capacity to correct and improve continually and I know of no “cardinal rule” against that. Also I offered to pay for my tickets, the producers offered the comp and I made it clear to them that I would have to explain why I was not reviewing it, by way of creating a place-holder for the other reviews, and that’s what I did. To address the actual play, “as the writer of MARILYN: FOREVER BLONDE” it was your decision alone to make it “In Her Own Words and Music”. (Oh, and while we are being pedantic, the implication in your wording that she composed or otherwise owned the music is unfortunate to say the least.) While the “own words” element does bring a certain authenticity to the work, it is restricting in exactly the way many critics have noted. The more she says she wants people to see her for who she really is, the more we build an intuitive expectation that your play will deliver just that. And it doesn’t. Which is what the “Forever Blonde” part of your title implies, certainly. Even so, that disappointment is felt because of what happens in your script and it is, I believe, inevitable. It’s an interesting problem to solve. In considering possible solutions, mention must be made of Terry Johnson’s ingenious 1985 play Insignificance (made into a film by Nicolas Roeg) where Marilyn Monroe, her then-husband Joe DiMaggio, Albert Einstein and Senator Joe McCarthy meet in a hotel room in 1953, at the height of McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunt. In this Johnson has Marilyn explaining her Special Theory of Relativity to Albert. Was this Marilyn any less real to us that the packaged product you have presented? I don’t think so. Then there is Arthur Miller’s Maggie, the blonde telephone operator who became a famous singer, in After The Fall … But you have chosen the keep to “her own words” – and I realise there would have been difficult rights issues in getting your Marilyn to do a bit of Maggie, even if you’d wanted her to. Here’s what popped into my head as a possible solution (not that I was asked, I know, but human beings are compulsive problem solvers …). At the time when she mentions wanting to do Shakespeare, I envisage her drifting into Hamlet’s “What a piece of work is man …” (well out of copyright, of course). And in the process of doing the whole speech, she lets go of the practiced mannerisms and finds her way back to Norma Jean Baker – as imagined by the actress and her director. Then of course she reverts to her manufactured self. But we’ve had a glimpse … I see that as a legitimate liberty to take and because it’s been bouncing about in my head and this is an open website, I thought I’d share it.

Zia Lopez April 4th, 2008

A recent contributor has reminded us that "people involved in the theatre have to roll with the punches." This includes theatre reviewers. If they fall short, as they so often do, and reveal lack of skill and integrity, they should be able to take criticism on the chin with dignity. Thanks to this playwright for taking the time to make his point (while at the same time reminding us how eloquently points can be made.)

Aaron Alexander April 4th, 2008

Wow. It's just a review that wasn't even that scathing and said many positive things. We have a saying down here in NZ, mate: Get over it.

e. v April 4th, 2008

After reading all the reviews, to an extent they said similar to what Kate said in her infamous one...that they found it (the script) fairly one dimensional but they possibly worded it better and less scathingly then Kate originally had. I've seen it, and like the the NZ Herald review, I found it to be more of a "re-creation of the icon, not a tribute" (to paraphrase) and to be honest, bordered on drag queen-ish in parts. Yes, the actor is good at imitating Marilyn but I thought acting was more than that? It's unfortunate that more wasn't made of the ending as this was the better part for me. Greg, I find your comment on John's "story" to be highly passive aggressive and arrogant. Yes, you can have fabulous runs across North America but that doesn't mean that it automatically must be accepted in NZ. The promotors/your reaction to Kate's review has got people talking and while I wouldn't say it didn't go down well, it's more people thought it was oversensitive and arrogant. (Or maybe you see it as "any publicity is good publicity?) Yes, the NZ Herald says that the actors performance is "flawless" (you highly paraphrased both quotes referenced but anyway..)but I return to what I said earlier in that most reviewers have said the script for them was lacking.

Greg Thompson (Playwright-MARILYN: FOREVER BLONDE April 4th, 2008

As the writer of MARILYN: FOREVER BLONDE now playing at the Downstage Theatre in Wellington I am always amused when a reviewer goes to the play that advertises itself as “The Marilyn Monroe Story In Her Own Words and Music” and wonders why Marilyn doesn’t have anything new to say. Trust me, I have searched high and low for Marilyn’s most recent comments on her life since her death in 1962 and they are no where to be found. The Theatreview “review” on my play by Kate Ward-Smythe was one such review. Curious in it’s contradictions Kate said the audience loved it but wondered why it didn’t tell her anything more than she could find on Wikipedia. You’re right Kate! It’s hard to find “new quotes” from dead people. Again, I’ve looked! Maybe Kate didn’t do enough research on line or she would have discovered Marilyn spelled her name “Monroe”…not “Munro” … or maybe Kate expected something miraculous to happen on stage when she wrote disappointedly, “perhaps it was silly to expect anything more than simply wonderful.” Personally Kate, I settle for simply wonderful! When confronted with Kate’s contradictions, Theatreview’s senior editor John Smythe said “it wasn’t really supposed to read like that.” The contradictions in the review were the result of “bad editing” on his part he confessed. When questioned about the misspelling of Monroe’s surname John replied casually…”interestingly, no one else noticed.” I wouldn’t want to put words in John’s mouth but was that comment meant to imply that “nobody reads his blogs on his Theatreview website or that “New Zealanders are just too dumb to know how to spell the name of Hollywood’s most famous movie star? Amazingly, John Smythe then committed the “cardinal sin of publishing” by editing Kate’s review after it had been published to cover his “self-admitted” editing errors without so much as a disclaimer! The internet is great, isn’t it John! I am not opposed to having my play reviewed. I have had many and we have had more than our share of great reviews. I am, however, surprised that a reviewer or editor would jeopardize his reputation by such callous comments and misrepresentations. The really laughable end to this story is that John asked if we wanted him to review our play again for Theatreview in Wellington. We told him once was enough! How many ways could someone misspell Marilyn? John said he wouldn’t review it but then, true to form, he used a “comp” ticket to see the show opening night and then proceeded to write a “non-review” review backing up everything Kate Ward-Smythe printed before him. Like I said, once was enough! MARILYN: FOREVER BLONDE has enjoyed extremely successful runs across America and Canada and I doubt very much that Kate’s review or John’s editing (twice) or his non-review will deter Wellington audiences from seeing Sunny Thompson give one of the most “moving and dynamic” (Dominion Post), “flawless” (NZ Herald) performances ever presented in a one-woman play. Perhaps we should allow Wellington audiences to make up their own minds on this one John and I’ll bet you a lemon/lime and bitters they know how to spell Marilyn Monroe!

Steve Evans March 27th, 2008

Actually it seems to me to be worse than a silly typing error. A significant element of the review in question was that people could have got more information about the subject by googling wikipedia - or words to that effect. Yet clearly, the review's author would have had some difficulty with Marilyn Munro. Perhaps she was the one who catalogued the Scottish peaks, or his sister, or something. Her knowledge, that is, to say, had to be so rudimentary as to be worthless. As a result, those involved in this production can have every reason to feel aggrieved at this review. Correcting the spelling makes it worse, not better. Of course, the substance of the review - that the production does not get beneath the skin of the subject - may very well be true. But it would be better if the reviewer showed she deserved to be able to say so. Beyond that, however, I'd also like to say that people involved in the theatre have to roll with the punches. As John Smythe has pointed out, they could participate on this site. Or they could engage in other ways. It was foolish of them to adopt the attitude they did, and their reward was John S's non-review, which will make things worse, not better, for them. Sigh.

John Smythe March 27th, 2008

Thanks Steve. As editor I should have picked that up - now corrected. Interestingly no-one else noticed.

Steve Evans March 27th, 2008

Maybe Kate W-S's review would have been taken more charitably if she had spelt Monroe correctly. She won't have been "googling" her way to knowledge. Really, this is pretty dire.

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She walks, she talks just like Marilyn

Review by Shannon Huse 08th Mar 2008

Marilyn: Forever Blonde makes you wish for a happy ending for poor, lonely Norma Jean. Using the actress’s own words to tell her life story, the show leaves you in no doubt that while she had fame and fortune, Marilyn Monroe was really searching for love and acceptance.

Written by Greg Thompson, the play is an extended flashback that tells the story of Monroe’s life from orphanage to movie stardom, celebrity then early death. While shying away from any conjecture about whether Monroe was murdered or committed suicide, the show doesn’t whitewash other aspects of her life, including [More


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The enigma remains

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 08th Mar 2008

While both die-hard Marilyn fans and those with a mere passing interest will walk away reminded of her beauty, sex appeal and ‘Hollywood Nous’, anyone hoping for a fresh insight or perspective on her journey and death will come away empty handed.

Much of the publicity surrounding Sunny Thompson’s committed performance in this one-woman show has positively stressed that the script is based "entirely from the actual words of Marilyn", yet is the play’s weakest link.

Statements to the press of the day, interviews, comments to colleagues and notables, would have been consciously or sub consciously filtered. It is not the stuff of emotional depth and inner truth. Writer Greg Thompson’s dialogue is full of Monroe’s predictable universal statements about loneliness, fame, acceptance, acting, love and marriage. But Thompson doesn’t take them anywhere new. He doesn’t explore the person inside Marilyn – what her motivations might have been, beyond her desire "to be wonderful." The script doesn’t allow enough self-awareness to even ask the question – was she simply just another sell-out? All we see and hear is an impersonation of what we knew already.

Marilyn: Forever Blonde is a performed chronology of her men, studios and songs – information you could just as easily find on YouTube and Wikipedia. Perhaps if Greg Thompson had started with a blank page and added bold artistic licence, the end result might have been more engaging, even gripping.

For example, the opportunity to explore the JFK relationship is missed. She was a liability to the Kennedy’s, given the conservative nature of the US electorate; yet Thompson shies away from any conspiracy theories, murder plots or meaty inferences. He doesn’t even take a stab at why she was so famously late arriving on stage to sing "Happy birthday, Mr President". Some imaginative licence could make all the difference here.

With a thin script, the delivery of magic rests on the shoulders of the writer’s wife, Sunny Thompson. Her craft is thorough, her intonation, baby talk, walk and mannerisms are all impressive and her delivery mostly smooth. Just as Marilyn Monroe was designed and packaged a certain way at all times for public consumption, so too is Sunny Thompson – she neither disappoints or falters. The opening night audience was very appreciative of her performance and I heard only positive adjectives exchanged in the foyer.

Director Stephanie Shine takes an authentic, safe approach with both her leading lady and her creative team. While slow to start, once underway, the evening takes on a pace and gloss of its own. Though occasionally, the acapella snippets of song drag. And not even Scott Farrell’s tidy pre-recorded musical arrangement was enough to justify the full treatment of ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend’.  Sunny Thompson captures Marilyn’s light breathy singing style to perfection, yet only achieves emotional punch when she allows her own vocal craft to shape the heart-felt ‘I’m Through With Love’.

Jason Phillip’s white linear set is inspired by the famous 1962 "Marilyn In Bed" photo session with Douglas Kirkland. At times it evokes the illusion of pure domestic affluence, at other times, it looks like a silken den for soft porn.

Regrettably lighting designer Woody Woodburn’s pedantic, distracting and excessive cross fades between the four different ‘rooms’, is anything but dynamic.

Marilyn’s always been a bit of an enigma – and Marilyn: Forever Blonde makes sure she remains so. Perhaps it was silly to expect anything more than something "wonderful", but ultimately one-dimensional, to look at.  
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