Norma Jeane – the musical
Lost Theatre, May 31st to June 19th 2016
Review by Richard Lambert
The concept seems to be that a musical about Marilyn Monroe’s time in a mental asylum should become a musical. Add some Jazz hands and it’ll be a razzle dazzle success. Unfortunately for this show, that isn’t what happened. The show marketing says “Norma Jeane: The Musical casts a beady eye on the dark side of fame and fortune”.
The Set (designed by Peter Bingemann) is immense. It’s tall, ambitious, of impressive construction and no doubt cost a lot, but it looked like we were outside a castle. All stone and gray. The stage floor painted as if we were on a drawbridge across a castle moat. It’s a mammoth task to leap from being outside a fortress to being inside a hospital room. Perhaps it’s an allusion of the fortress of her mind?
The lighting (Lighting designed by Sky Bembury) was bizarre. There are 2 Birdies screwed to the floor to uplight the castle (which provided a circular hot spot on the bottom of the fortress wall instead of a wash up the wall). The massive set was only co-incidentally lit. For the musical numbers we’re presented with rotating Mickey Mouse ears that splash onto the black borders. Alongside various other questionable lighting design choices. It was also apparent that the Fade Down time on all Qs was a Snap while the Fade Up actually faded up. Did nobody on the team notice? It’s quite jarring!
There was a live band, but no evidence of that outside of the Programme. Unless you noticed the conductor relayed onto a large monitor screen in the tech box at the rear of the auditorium. What a shame – it might as well have been on click-track. Accompanied by a very loud mix where the band drowned out the singers. Either the singers need to be mic’d, especially Joanne Clifton as the star of the show who I just couldn’t hear, or the band mix should be turned down.
The costumes were lovely and Marilyn’s wig was superb!
Hospital food is sometimes described as plastic. But this was taken to a new level when the tray of hospital food is sent flying and the plastic sandwich glued to the plastic plate Frisbee together across the stage without seperating. When the audience titter at what should be a dramatic moment you know there’s a problem!
The story doesn’t really go anywhere. The book starts and ends in the asylum. A narrator wanders around telling us facts. We’re introduced to several ghosts of Marilyn’s mind. One, two and even three Marilyn’s of differing ages are on-stage simultaneously. Thanfully, there are many dance numbers (choreographed by Adam Scown) performed in the hospital room which bring some lively welcome relief and a lift to the production.
In the middle of the 2nd half of the show, a younger Marilyn sang a song. And yes, finally the show came to life thanks to Ruth Betteridge! Her voice was outstanding and carried through the music. She was the stand out performer and a whole bundle of talent! A shame that we didn’t hear more of Ruth’s singing earlier in the show!
The Cast do their best with this show but when the set looks like the Daleks have invaded and the book is so thin it’s a tough sell!