Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Norma Jeane The Musical at Ye Olde Rose and Crown
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Norma Jeane The Musical at Ye Olde Rose and Crown
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Norma Jeane The Musical at Ye Olde Rose and Crown
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08 Mar REVIEW: Norma Jeane The Musical at Ye Olde Rose and Crown

Stumbling across incredible new musical theatre is one of the reasons I love reviewing so much. The energy, imagination and commitment that goes into producing that show for the first time is so exciting when it comes through onstage. Sometimes shows can sail by on sheer exuberance, even where there are problems with the concept, or production, and an unbelievable cast can drag a show up from benign mediocrity. One of the problems new musicals face is the very thing that makes them so unique and so exciting: they haven’t been seen by an audience before, so they’ve not had audience feedback to develop and improve, and they’ve not had many goes at trying the same thing in different ways. And whilst I’m often delighted to report that the hard work really has paid off and it’s landed spot on, or even that it’s sparkling with potential, that can’t be the case every time, and sadly it isn’t the case with Norma Jeane – The Musical, set in the last living days of Marilyn Monroe, born the eponymous Norma Jeane, but transformed into a Hollywood goddess.

There aren’t many people who could truly be described as “iconic,” but Marilyn Monroe is certainly one of them. The epitome of classic Hollywood glamour, and for many the very definition of beauty, she was – and even 50 years after her death remains, the sex symbol of all sex symbols. She was a fascinating woman with a depth and substance far beyond that depicted through her characters, her enormous success being coupled with emotional battles, industry and personal exploitation, substance abuse and an early death that’s been the topic of many a conspiracy theory. It all makes her life – and death- incredibly fertile ground for dramatisation.

Unfortunately this dramatisation – and musical – just doesn’t work, despite such promising subject matter.

The employment of more than a handful of composers to write different songs creates one of the first – and most pervasive – problems with the piece: it just doesn’t cling together. Listening to the show in its entirety sounds a lot like each composer composed in a vacuum, none knowing what the others were doing, resulting in a show with no musical feel or identity. With the songs just unremarkable, disparate elements clumsily thrown together in a way that doesn’t flow, the execution of those songs has to be breathtaking, and it just isn’t. 

With no live element to the music (though it’s possible that somewhere someone was playing the keyboard) and too much Casio-keyboard synth, the lack of detailed, multi-layered instrumental screams out as a gaping hole. But the at-best amateurish backing track at least prepares the audience for the disappointing vocals yet to come; as Norma Jeane and Marilyn Monroe respectively, Rebecca Cole and Melissa Suffield are the pick of the group with a pretty rendition of ”In My Mind, though neither appear to have the power nor range to sing in the round un-mic’ed, and the rest of the cast genuinely had me wincing on occasion. Perhaps it’s the vocal arrangements or lack thereof, but it all just feels a bit slow off the cue.

On the point of casting, it has to be said that Chris Edgerley delivers a strong acting performance as the voices in Marilyn’s head, his spoken voice delicious to listen to even if the script he has to work with is hardly electrifying. When he steps out of the shadows he’s compellingly watchable, the predator circling in on his prey, played by an equally well-acted Rebecca Cole as Norma Jeane, who’s convincingly treading the path to emotional destruction. In Melissa Suffield is a strong study of “Miss Marilyn Monroe’s” mannerisms, despite her character being dreadfully written. If I have to listen to anyone say “I am Miss Marilyn Monroe” any more times I might scream.

Part of the problem with Suffield’s Marilyn are the costumes she’s put in. A series of bad fancy dress outfits that most likely arrived in an A4-sized plastic popper up envelope, the sad truth of the matter is that just by sitting in Leicester Square on a Saturday afternoon, you’ll almost definitely see at least one hen party wearing Marilyn Monroe costumes that are infinitely more realistic than those suffered by Suffield.

With a script that states the obvious and stoically insists on telling the audience everything, there’s just nothing very Marilyn about it; no sparkle, no glamour, no pizzazz. As amaterish a production as the poster would have you believe, there’s so little vivacity that come the interval I just wanted to go into the dressing room to deliver a crate of energy drinks, as what could have been an interesting concept is transformed into sheer tedium.

Believe me, I take absolutely no pleasure in being so critical, particularly since I know how much in the way of blood, sweat and tears go into producing a show. But this is a show with almost nothing going for it, to the extent that even if I were sat in the pub beneath the theatre and someone handed me a ticket, I wouldn’t make the journey up the stairs to watch it again.

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
Okay, fine, but how many stars do you give it? Click here