About 10 minutes into Marilyn: Forever Blonde I caught myself thinking that I was watching the real thing. That’s how convincingly actress Sunny Thompson channels Marilyn Monroe in her one-woman show, at Stoneham Theatre through November 11, 2007.

Thompson is no mere look-a-like or Marilyn impersonator, although in full makeup and costume she is a dead-ringer for the mid-20th century Hollywood icon. But Thompson has the moves too-—the walk, the sleepy bedroom eyes and all of the mannerisms and poses that are so familiar from the movies and still pictures of Monroe.

Thompson also nails the voice and the inflection down to a T, literally. She has studied and mastered Marilyn’s speech patterns, including the slightly breathless, exaggerated enunciation of every syllable and the emphasis on the hard consonants (i.e., “My Heart Belongs to Dad-dee”).

We encounter Marilyn in 1962, in the middle of one of her last photo shoots. A bed with satin sheets on a riser surrounded by photographer’s lights forms the centerpiece of the set where the action begins. At 36, Marilyn is still very beautiful, but has tired of the blonde bombshell, sex symbol image and longs to be taken seriously as an actress and loved for who she really is.

Marilyn begins talking about her childhood as an orphan, being repeatedly shipped from orphanage to foster home and back to the orphanage, and how it led to her feelings of being unwanted.

She talks about her early experiences as a struggling actress in Hollywood, and changing her name from Norma Jean Baker to Marilyn Monroe after being signed first by 20th Century Fox and then by Columbia. She talks about sleeping with producers in order to get work, because if she didn’t do it, there were plenty of other hungry actresses who would.

She talks about her troubled marriages to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, and speaks affectionately of Frank Sinatra, Howard Hughes and the Kennedy brothers, Bobby and John.

“Jack likes to call and ask me what I have on,” she says of President Kennedy. “I tell him, ‘the radio.’”

After all her success, Marilyn wonders what it would be like to have a normal life. “Why can’t I be an ordinary woman who can have a family?”

Disillusioned with Hollywood, she decries the shallowness of the system. “An actress is not a machine, but they treat you like one,” she vents, “a money machine. When my face goes and my body goes, I’ll be nothing.”

The show was written and produced by Greg Thompson, Sunny’s husband, and is the result of 10 years of painstaking research.

Greg Thompson assembled the dialog from Marilyn Monroe’s own words — taken from movies, interviews, and newsreels — into a smooth and seamless biographical portrait. This, combined with Sunny Thompson’s pitch-perfect performance, furthers the aura of authenticity that surrounds the show.

Included are 17 songs that Marilyn made famous, like “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” “That Old Black Magic” and “My Heart Belongs to Daddy.”

For costume fans, there are plenty of wardrobe changes, which, in titillating fashion, Sunny/Marilyn does on stage behind a translucent dressing room screen. Marilyn fans will recognize the trademark white robe, the red gown and other outfits that became highly identified with the actress.

No one has laid eyes on Marilyn Monroe since the actress came to a tragic end 45 years ago. But for two hours on stage at Stoneham Theatre, Sunny Thompson brings Marilyn to life again. You’ll feel her presence as she tells you, in her own words, what it was really like to be Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn: Forever Blonde runs through November 11, 2007 at Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main Street, Stoneham. For show times and tickets, go online at http://www.stonehamtheatre.org or phone 781-279-2200.

[MARILYN: FOREVER BLONDE, by Greg Thompson. Directed by Stephanie Shine. Set design, Jason Phillips. Production Manager, Dave Brown. Lighting Designer, Woody Woodburn.
Production Stage Manager, Kristin Alessandroni. Costume Design, Mimi Countryman and Alice Worthy. Makeup, Jimmy James. Musical Arrangements, Scott Farrell.]

This review originally appeared in the October 31, 2007 Wakefield Daily Item.


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