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REVIEW: A legend returns in Asolo Rep's 'Marilyn: Forever Blonde'

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In the one-woman show “Marilyn: Forever Blonde,” Sunny Thompson makes you think you’re watching the film icon and sex symbol live on the Asolo Repertory Theatre stage.

Sunny Thompson stars as Marilyn Monroe in "Marilyn: Forever Blonde" at Asolo Repertory Theatre. HOWARD PETRELLA PHOTO/PROVIDED BY ASOLO REPERTORY THEATRE

From the platinum hair to the hip-swaying walk and the breathy, come-hither purring of her voice, she captures the look and sound of Marilyn Monroe as we know her from dozens of films, books and documentaries since her tragic death at age 36 in 1962.

Public interest in Monroe has hardly faded since then. Over the weekend, the white dress she famously wore over a subway grate in “The Seven Year Itch” sold at auction for $4.6 million.

Sunny Thompson talks about playing Marilyn Monroe.

Greg Thompson’s script for “Forever Blonde” apparently uses only Monroe’s own words. That leads to a slightly superficial look at her life during her final photo shoot before her death. There are some stories to appreciate anew, but anyone who has followed her career will recognize most of what is presented her. Even so, it all sounds sounds fascinating and believable from from Sunny Thompson’s performance, directed by Stephanie Shine.

What’s missing is a sense of the frustration, bitterness or regret that led her to drink and take pills. We get only a sense of those feelings in the final moments before the last flash of the photographer’s camera captures another nearly perfect image of her grace, beauty and sensuality on the attractive set by Jason Phillips.

Sunny Thompson stars in "Marilyn: Forever Blonde" at Asolo Repertory Theatre. HOWARD PETRELLA PHOTO/PROVIDED BY ASOLO REPERTORY THEATRE

Between shots, Marilyn happily tells us about her life, how she grew up in a series of foster homes and began to find herself once her body started to develop. In essence, she tells us in slightly risqué detail how she slept her way to the top of Hollywood, willingly used by a series of writers, producers, casting directors, directors and studio executives who promised her the world but rarely delivered. That’s just the way things were for young and attractive would-be actresses at the time.

We hear about her wanting to be a serious actress and her brief time with President John F. Kennedy (dirty-talk phone calls that sound odd now after the Anthony Weiner scandal).

It seems impossible that even after the public took notice of her, Monroe still had trouble getting work. Were studios afraid of her? Did she have bad work habits? This show doesn’t delve that deeply. Nor does it explain what went wrong in her initially happy marriages to jealous baseball star Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller.

The stories are entertaining, but in the first act, they all have the same innocent gushing excitement with little sense of dramatic variety. There’s a bit more color to the stories and Thompson’s performance in the second half.Sunny Thompson stars as Marilyn Monroe in "Marilyn: Forever Blonde" at Asolo Repertory Theatre. HOWARD PETRELLA PHOTO/PROVIDED BY ASOLO REPERTORY THEATRE

Thompson does get to display a sweet singing voice with mostly a capella versions of songs associated with Monroe (or the times) effectively interspersed either chronologically or dramatically into the script. Some, like “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” are re-created to look as they did on film, with similar costumes by Mimi Countryman and Alice Worth.

Thompson makes the audience fall for her and the troubled performer she portrays, even if the show never really gets beneath that gorgeous shell.

THEATER REVIEW
MARILYN: FOREVER BLONDE
By Greg Thompson. Directed by Stephanie Shine. Reviewed June 18, Asolo Repertory Theatre, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Through July 10. Tickets are $17-$65. 351-8000;
asolorep.org
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Jay Handelman

Jay Handelman is the theater and television critic for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, where he has worked since 1984. He also is President of the Foundation of the American Theatre Critics Association and a two-time past chairman of the association's executive committee. He can be reached by email or call (941) 361-4931. Follow him at @jayhandelman on Twitter. Make sure to "Like" Arts Sarasota on Facebook for news and reviews of the arts.
Last modified: July 1, 2011
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