On the dark Asolo Repertory Theatre stage, a male voice-over from a reporter at a photo shoot speaks about Marilyn Monroe’s life while bright lights intermittently flash on, revealing the icon posing for the camera.
The word “yummy” rings out from a male voice in the audience — it epitomizes his gender’s reaction to the original Marilyn Monroe. But women loved her, too, for her vulnerability and her yearning to be loved, as expressed in Arthur Miller’s symbolic take on his wife, “The Misfits.”
The scene is set appropriately in the Hollywood bungalow where Monroe eventually died. It reveals an isolated Monroe living a life of phone calls and alcohol and dreaming of becoming accepted for herself, not just as a sex symbol.
Sunny Thompson stars as Monroe in “Marilyn: Forever Blonde.” The well-written and well-researched play by her husband and manager, Greg Thompson, was a 20-year labor of love. The witty dialogue is taken from Monroe’s own words, and the songs are ones she sang in her films.
This show has won major awards, including “One of the Year’s Top Ten Productions” and “Best Leading Actress in a Play.” Greg Thompson’s script explores not only motivation; Monroe essentially grew up a fatherless waif spending years with foster parents as well as enduring a period of time in an orphanage two blocks from RKO Studios.
Monroe’s career began in the ’50s; the Equal Rights Amendment for women wasn’t born until the ’70s. Did she sleep with producers to get parts? Didn’t everybody? Did she yearn for a “Daddy” to love and take care of her? What were her options? The play explores her major relationships with men, from Joe Skank through Joe DiMaggio, Arthur Miller, Frank Sinatra and the Kennedy brothers.
Thompson, who has performed in musical revues around the world and off Broadway, delivers a touchingly palpable Monroe. She captures the star’s every gesture and nuance and commands the audience’s devoted attention.
Under the direction of Stephanie Shine, Thompson’s performance is flawlessly skillful and lovably amusing. Shine is the artistic director of the Seattle Shakespeare Company.
The costumes, by Mimi Countryman and Alice Worthy, are breathtaking and iconic tributes to the male ideal of the feminine hourglass form. The makeup design by Jimmy James is wondrous.
The set by Jason Phillips, lighting by Woody Woodburn and musical arrangements all create an appropriate ambience.