In tackling the iconic role of Marilyn Monroe in her one-woman show "Marilyn: Forever Blonde," Sunny Thompson has given herself the most demanding of roles. In essence she is attempting to capture lightning in a bottle, to properly portray the young actress born as Norma Jean Baker and emulate the larger-than-life figure and film star we have all come to know and love.
Thompson and her director Stephanie Shine have been working on this production since it opened in Hollywood in 2007. They have thoroughly researched all aspects of the sex symbol's life and Thompson has even mastered the makeup artistry so that she is literally transformed into a chillingly exact image of Monroe in as little as two and a half hours. According to some Hollywood authorities, the actual process on set would take up to eight hours in length.
Thompson had gotten the idea to play Marilyn Monroe only after having worked on a show that depicted several different Hollywood blondes including Mae West and others. She claims she still doesn't see the similarity between the two, but to those that witness the two hour long play in two acts, there is little doubt that she channels the late actress and singer in words and song better than any other impersonator alive today.
"I think it's a gift of a role to play as an actor having played so many roles," she stated. "She was phenomenal at comedy and she was tremendously witty." But, Thompson noted she also had a dark side to her personality and, because of that, plays her character as torn and alone in the world when called upon to do so. "It's a great role and a great challenge," she explained, "and that's why it continues to be so interesting."
Thompson's past credits have definitely laid the foundation for her portrayal of Monroe. She has worked in Branson, MO at her own theater and later was a headliner for the Showgirls at the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas, where she paid tribute to showgirls from the past to the present.
She is a terrific singer and has emulated famous Hollywood and popular personages like Dolly Parton, Joan Rivers, Britney Spears and Madonna. But in "Marilyn: Forever Blonde" she has only one number where she sings to musical accompaniment: "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend." All of the other songs she sings are sung a cappella and right on pitch.
Thompson also changes costumes in full view of the audience, changing behind a screen that is lit from behind. One sees all of the accessories she is putting on or taking off and it's all done tastefully and with deliberate precision.
Over the years the show has been paired down, but even now it runs over 120 minutes including a 15-minute intermission. Yet, each scene enhances Thompson's abilities and as the play moves toward it inevitable conclusion, one is drawn to appreciate how strong and how vulnerable the actress was in her personal life and her professional career.
Lovers are explained as she talks about the liaisons she enjoyed with a succession of men and even Joan Crawford. Yet, as Thompson suggested, to ignore her sexuality would have been as grave as ignoring her beauty mark; she was a sexual animal and made no excuses about it. Besides, she added, it was the way she got ahead whenever it was necessary and she enjoyed herself.
Thompson's version of Monroe is uncanny. "She's all about the subtleties," she confided. "Marilyn had that little girl character that always lived within her and I like to go back between the woman icon and the child," Thompson continued. "It's very, very subtle, but it's who she was. It's necessary to make that point."
"Marilyn: Forever Blonde" closes Saturday night at the Joy Theater, 1200 Canal Street. For more information call 504-528-9659 for ticket pricing.