I don’t know what to make of “Hey, Marilyn” (which recently closed on schedule at the St. Lawrence Center for the Arts, after an eight-day run).
The cast numbers in the double-digits, there is a five-piece band performing on stage, the choreography (by Tracy Cairns-Sharpe) features some elaborately plotted sequences, and there are some terrific players onstage.
But the huge spectrum diffuses the action to the point where “Hey, Marilyn” (a capricorn 9 production) is just as much about artifice and history as Monroe. Which – in itself – is not a problem. The way so much information is handled here however, is a problem.
The songs are almost entirely exposition.
They trace the events of Marilyn Monroe’s life – from her childhood as Norma Jean, through (at least) three marriages, all the way to a suggestion that she had a serious affair with President Kennedy. And all this is punctuated by trips to Korea where Marilyn was a goddess to U.S. troops stationed there, and films. MGM gave Monroe a break as a low-paid actor, then she moved to making (literally) ten-times as much money a starlet at Twentieth Century Fox.
Great story, too bad the songs are – at times – excruciatingly literal.
To its credit though, “Hey, Marilyn” attempts at psychological depth. Including the (heavy-handed) suggestion that Marilyn’s childhood without a father led her much later to the arms of Arthur Miller, and generally, that it fed into a precocious sexuality. (Though that’s a spurious leap, that I’m not entirely comfortable making. Especially given the stories of molestation that float around about Marilyn’s childhood.)
“Hey, Marilyn” sets-up one situation after another – with the help of the Narrator (the wonderful Rudy Webb) – then dances around (often literally) what’s really going on between characters.
Instead of concentrating on what’s actually happening, “Hey, Marilyn” chooses to focus on what else is happening in the world. And this choice robs it of emotional power.Which is unfortunate – ironic really, because one of the conflicts “Hey, Marilyn” touches on is Monroe’s frustration that she was not treated seriously.
Mistreated throughout her life, not really seen as anything more than a sex object though she was trying – we are told, of course – to be more, Monroe comes across as the perpetual victim of history. But how is it possible that a person can achieve international fame without making choices about what to do?
It’s as if Cliff Jones (responsible for the book, music and lyrics) simultaneously took for granted the story of Marilyn while at the same time paid meticulous attention to giving us a – at times – condescending interpretation of her life.