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Peter Schaufuss Company in Marilyn

Posted on June 3, 2009

Marilyn, The Story of the Silver Screen Goddess

Marilyn, the latest “dancical” presented for a limited run by Peter Schaufuss at the Apollo Theatre in London’s West End, is based on the life of screen legend Marilyn Monroe. This is the most recent in a series of celebrity-based full-length works that the company has been presenting in London for the last couple of summers, the previous pieces being Satisfaction (based on The Rolling Stones) and Divas (based on the lives of Edith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich and Judy Garland). Marilyn, then, follows a formula that has proved popular in Schaufuss’ native Denmark, but has been less successful in London (at least amongst the UK’s fraternity of dance critics).

This new “dancical” depicts the life of Marilyn Monroe in scenes painted with the broadest of brushstrokes. Danced to many of the songs made famous by Monroe in her movies, Marilyn opens with the young Norma Jean being given up for adoption by her paranoid schizophrenic mother, and then attempts to show Monroe’s life-long search to find stability in a loving relationship; her transformation from movie starlet into Marilyn the screen goddess; her numerous affairs and marriages; and finally her eventual suicide. Such a complex life story could make a powerfully interesting ballet, but unfortunately Schaufuss creates dances, characters and situations of such banality that Marilyn quickly becomes a bore. The mother figure is presented as a gibbering lunatic who embarrassingly rambles into numerous scenes that almost always conclude with her trying to asphyxiate Marilyn. Monroe herself is mainly shown as a passive figure with little chance to stand on her own two feet. For much of the time she is either suggestively sprawled on a sofa or a bed like an odalisque, or draped over the arms or shoulders of her male partners.

The dancers work hard in attempting to create memorable stage characters, but with such poor and crudely thought-out material to work with Stefan Wise’s Arthur Miller simply becomes a randy nerd and Adam Kirkham’s Joe DiMaggio seems superfluous. As Marilyn Monroe, Zara Deakin did her best to give a convincing impersonation of one of Hollywood’s most iconic sex symbols, but her lithe and lean physique did little to suggest the voluptuous curves or the fragile yet magnetic screen personality of an actress who, surely, was not a goddess in black and white as the subtitle of Marilyn suggests but a star in glorious Technicolor.

Zara Deakin as Marilyn Monroe in Marilyn. Photograph courtesy of the Peter Schaufuss Company

Jonathan Gray is editor of Dancing Times. He studied at The Royal Ballet School, Leicester Polytechnic, and Wimbledon School of Art where he graduated with a BA Hons in Theatre Design. For 16 years he was a member of the curatorial department of the Theatre Museum, London, assisting on a number of dance-related exhibitions, and helping with the recreation of original designs for a number of The Royal Ballet’s productions including Danses concertantes, Daphnis and Chloë, and The Sleeping Beauty. He has also contributed to the Financial Times, written programme articles for The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet, and is co-author of the book Unleashing Britain: Theatre gets real 1955-64, published in 2005.

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