Who wants to spend an unforgettable night with Marilyn Monroe? It’s not as impossible as it sounds thanks to the stage presentation “Marilyn: Forever Blonde” starring the mesmerizing Sunny Thompson in the title role. The one-woman show is playing Oct. 16, 17, and 18 at the historic El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood, California.
The theatrical experience is breathtaking thanks to Thompson being a mirror image of the iconic star. The actress personifies the beauty and sexiness that was the essence of Marilyn. But beyond the physicality, Sunny has captured Marilyn’s vulnerability.
Sunny said, “It was important to be able to command an audience being totally soft and feminine. I begin the play lying down with no clothes on, under a sheet. I can’t imagine a more vulnerable position. The interesting thing I have discovered about Marilyn is that her soft, vulnerable qualities drew people to her. Rather than shouting, ‘Here I am,’ she got attention in a more subtle way. Through Marilyn, you see the power of being soft.”
The story is told from viewpoint of Marilyn looking back on her career, life, and loves. She is telling the funny and heartbreaking tales in a recreation of the final photo shoot before her untimely death at age 36. The stories are told in her own words, meticulously researched from Marilyn’s actual quotes. And it features the songs she sang in her movies. It is a brilliant script created by award winning producer-writer Greg Thompson, and got raves when it played London’s West End.
Sunny reported that the process of becoming Marilyn was multifaceted. “We enlisted the help of Jimmy James, the very popular Marilyn impersonator. Greg and I asked if he would help me with the makeup design, Marilyn’s mannerisms, and the physicality, and he was so gracious.” The result was a flawless recreation.
Sunny doesn’t give a breathy imitation. She just becomes Marilyn and makes the iconic star come alive as a person rather than a unapproachable goddess. Sunny gives credit to rehearsals with director Stephanie Shine (with the Seattle Shakespeare Company), and the research done by producer-writer Greg Thompson (Sunny’s husband). “We all worked together, with lots of rehearsal time to develop all the subtleties. Marilyn’s story is as powerful as any Shakespeare tragedy, and I think she would love that her life has a Shakespearean director.”
Part of discovering Marilyn is through her songs. Sunny said, “The songs really help me. As one woman on a stage, you really need all your tricks. I’m a singer first, so that was my comfort zone, and it does help tell the story. There are songs that are from her movies and they go beautifully with the subject matter. We use them as an extension of text to move the story forward.”
Sunny explained it’s a thrill for her to play the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood where it all began for Norma Jean, the girl who became a star as Marilyn Monroe. “It’s a beautiful intimate theater that plays well for a one-person play. And it is right next to the elementary school where little Norma Jean attended sixth grade in 1937. It’s a fact that she went to the El Portal when it was a movie theater. In the play we talk about her foster family sending her off to the movies to that theater. She actually walked down that street, Lankershim, and through those front doors. It’s fascinating for me to imagine her sitting in the front row of this theater.”
The Lipstick Productions presentation is definitely for diehard Marilyn fans, but it is also for those who need to discover the real person behind the legend. The show has laughs, tears, and a very personal encounter with a Hollywood luminary whose like will never be duplicated—except in this dazzling performance by Sunny Thompson.
“Marilyn Forever Blonde” at the El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, Friday, Oct. 16, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 17, at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 18, at 3 p.m. For tickets call 818-508-4200, or go to www.elportaltheatre.com. #