Marilyn: The Dance Musical - as shit as it sounds

Posted by Lou. The time is 11.09pm here in London, UK.

I got free tix* to Marilyn: The Dance Musical so thought "what the hey!" and went along with fellow musical buff Sherie and, well, we both despised it and thus I shall now proceed to pull it apart in detail.

Oh man, it was shite. I don't even know where to start. During the first number I realised that it was going to be a piece of rubbish - in one dance routine they attempted to "set the scene" of Marilyn's upbringing via interpretive dance. Our whispered conversation perhaps sums it up best: "this is absurd" "yes". You know what? Just skip it. Just skip it. It didn't in any way inform us of Marilyn's upbringing (other than containing a nod to her mother's psychiatric instability) and served no point other than to be tacky.

I must now mention the biggest issue I had with the show - the casting of Marilyn. Good gawd. They cast an expressionless dance who was characterised by being very tall and very lean, to the point of gangliness. Now, obviously I do not believe that women should be defined by their appearance. But we're talking about Marilyn Monroe. She was fundamentally defined by her appearance. She is an icon of the ages. Her career, her persona, her life were defined by the image of Marilyn Monroe. Yes, there was a whole lot more to Norma Jean (I shall mention this in a moment), but her legacy starts with and centres upon the image that was Marilyn Monroe. The dancer playing her did not in any way whatsoever evoke this image - seeing her in Marilyn clothing, seeing her going through the motions of "sultry" moves, watching her dance to the soundtrack of Marilyn's own voice with images of the real woman beamed larger-than-life over the stage, just served to distance the subject matter from the theatrical embodiment.**

So back to the show - the second number was worse than the opening one. Perhaps a low point in the history of theatre. As we listened to the wonderful sultry tones of Marilyn singing a playful song full of sexual innuendo the on-stage action veered far too far into the arena of vulgar and crass with a hideous overt and thoroughly unerotic scene of oral sex. It was actually embarrassing. Not racy, not risque, just embarrassing - and totally missing the point. As Sherie put it, it completely missed capturing her sensuality, instead going straight to sex.

Which leads me on to the other huge problem with this show - it completely failed to capture anything of the person. There was no sense of her career - nothing of the accomplished performer, actress, and comedienne. Nothing of her intelligence, nothing of the way she was used or the way she herself used the Marilyn Monroe image. Nothing about her well-known issues - her difficult nature, her addictions, her apparent emotional and potentially psychiatric unbalance. All we proceeded to get through the show was a series of passive relationships in which she - like so many women before her - was portrayed as an object defined by being the weak player in the lives of men, culminating in a downright offensive scene in which she lays herself out on a bed for JFK sacrificially, as if obligated to give her body over to the President.

Sherie mentioned that it was so weak and superficial that it was as if someone had just looked up the rudimentary facts on wikipedia and turned them into a show. (The baseball player, the "geeky" playwright, the supposed affair with a President, a suicide.) But reading her wikipedia page is far more interesting and reveals a quote from third husband Arthur Miller that tells more about Marilyn Monroe in one sentence than this show managed in 90 minutes: "She was a whirling light to me then, all paradox and enticing mystery, street-tough one moment, then lifted by a lyrical and poetic sensitivity that few retain past early adolescence."

Having failed to portray or evoke anything of the icon, the star, the seductress, the careerwoman, the messed-up-lady, the piece ending in her "suicide" was only a satisfactory ending in that it meant the end to a torturous hour and a half of seeing a great woman's life massacred.

I suppose I should also comment on the dance itself seeing as it was a dance show (the "musical" part was slightly misleading in that no-one actually performs any live music - it is all recordings (the best part of it, really)). As Sherie is a dance teacher I'll just regurgitate her verdict: there were some nice moments and the dancer portraying Di Maggio was great, but everything else was weak, the choices were all wrong (including an inaccurate dance style being used), and the choreography of Marilyn was totally oppositional to who she was. This was evident to even me and goes back into the incorrect physicality of the dancer - all long limbs and flexibility and sharp lines in en pointe ballet-shoes seems totally at odds with The Blonde Bombshell who to this day epitomises sultriness and sensuality.

Not recommended.

*I know people who know people

**I would hate for that to read as if I mean that long, lean female forms are inherently unsexy - I mean, rather, than Marilyn - like it or not - was defined by her curves, and you subsequently can't attempt to visually portray her without the curves. It's not just the curves themselves, but what they mean - how they shaped people's perceptions of her, and subsequently how that would have shaped her view of the world. It's just not able to be expressed via such a totally oppositional physicality, and I refuse to believe that they couldn't find a dancer with curves.

One thought on “Marilyn: The Dance Musical - as shit as it sounds”

  1. Thank you, Lou (and Sherie) for taking a hit for the team. It sounds like this was atrocious.

    As a mostly symbolic gesture of an antidote, I'd like to offer you a read of my latest (and possibly greatest) secondhand bookstore score. It's a hardcover pictorial biography of Marilyn Munroe, with the text written by Gloria Steinem. Yes, it is as awesome as it sounds. Perhaps this show's producers should have perused it before opening night...?