Monday, June 4, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Marilyn Monroe is an obviously great choice as the foundation for a Las Vegas production show, one of Hollywood’s most timeless figures and still the very definition of a sex symbol. But what kind of Vegas show would you build around an icon?
Transplanted producer Tegan Summer, in collaboration with Caesars Entertainment and Authentic Brands Group representing the estate of Marilyn Monroe, has opted for a big Broadway-style musical crammed with original songs and detailed biographical storytelling, now playing at the Paris Theater. If that sounds a bit dense, it’s worth noting that the grand opening performance on June 1 was a rapid-fire affair, bouncing from song to song with roller-coaster momentum and an extraordinary amount of emotion from a gifted cast anchored by Ruby Lewis as Marilyn.
The Paris Theater is an appropriately glamorous venue for this original production, written and directed by Summer with additional musical contributions from orchestrator Gregory Nabors. The show’s onstage guide is Charlie, Marilyn’s trusted driver and confidant, played with energy and affection by Frank Lawson. He narrates as we watch innocent, troubled Norma Jeane Mortensen (Brittney Bertier) find her way to Hollywood to become a star who struggles with love and loss and chemical dependency while fighting for professional respect.
A rare stabilizing force in Marilyn’s life—and an essential performance in the show—is ex-boyfriend Bill, played with strength and vulnerability by Chris Fore. As Marilyn evolves and wrangles with her demons, she’s constantly thinking of Bill, whose kindness serves as a canvas for Marilyn’s erratic, precarious life. A tender moment arrives when Lewis and Fore sing “Someone Else Ago,” one of many big, emotional songs in the show; “Don’t Wanna Be Me” finds Marilyn and Norma Jeane singing with and against each other, and Lewis demonstrates her powerful, expressive voice in “The Time of My Life (I Deserve More).”
The story told in “Marilyn!” is fascinating but the cast makes it compelling. Travis Cloer returns to the stage where he played Frankie Valli in “Jersey Boys” to portray one of Marilyn’s many allies and agitators, photographer and producer Milton Greene. Randal Keith steals all his scenes as studio chief Darryl Zanuck. You want to see and hear more when these and other characters slip into the spotlight, but the runaway train of Marilyn’s existence creates a manic pace throughout the production.
When Lewis sings that infamous rendition of “Happy Birthday” for JFK, the uncertainty is tangible. Contrasting exhilaration comes early when Lewis performs her first number, Cole Porter’s “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” sung by Marilyn in 1960’s “Let’s Make Love.” That moment is one example of this show at its best, when Lewis is being showcased and Marilyn is being celebrated.
This is only the beginning. It will be exciting to see how “Marilyn!” evolves over time, but the Vegas entertainment community is already grateful to have an original piece of musical theater on the Strip stage. “Marilyn! The New Musical” is performed at 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday at the Paris Theater (3655 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 702-777-2782) and more information can be found at caesars.com.