Goodbye Norma Jeane at Above the Stag
When Marilyn Monroe died, not just Hollywood but the whole world cried the loss of a bright star and famously seductive beauty. For some, though, down with the blonde bombshell went an entire career and a lifelong source of inspiration. Goodbye Norma Jeane is the story of Jack Cole, one of those who lost a muse in the show’s eponymous icon. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, it’s because his work behind the scenes (or more specifically, gettings the artists ready for the scenes) unfortunately remains quite unknown to this day. With this play, Liam Burke unearths part of the career of the father of theatrical jazz dance.
Through appearances from and short exchanges with the big names Cole helped to stand, dance and graciously move for the camera – the likes of Lana Turner, Ann Miller, Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth – the audience is given a heartfelt image of the choreographer’s life and his relationships with the stars he was training. It’s particularly interesting how the script manages to reproduce a nostalgic, yet not too sentimental, aura of the “baby doll” culture, through the dialogues and profiles of other notable females in show business. There are glimpses of Cole’s private life, namely the story of his parents and his partnership with Gwen Verdon, but they are left as passing references; It’s a pity they didn’t find a larger space in the narrative.
The show starts with a monologue by Tim English, playing Jack Cole. Numerous visits from 60s divas wonderfully break up the talk, at the right time, with the right tone, enriching the story and widening the horizon of Cole’s descriptions, currently told in a messy, un-glamorous living room. For this, the credit goes to Rachel Stanley, who impersonates all the women appearing and disappearing on stage. Quickly changing into so many roles (getting dressed anew, from head to toe, every single time), the actress constantly offers lively performances. Her sheer versatility when switching between dance genres and characters is admirable.
Goodbye Norma Jeane would have greatly benefitted from some tightening up in the first part. The initial slow pace is recovered after the interval, when some bouncy numbers bring a good injection of brio to the production. Tap dance, the reinvention of ballet, and swinging moves were some of the most enjoyable moments of the night.
Photo: PBJ Studios
Goodbye Norma Jeane is at Above the Stag from 16th March until 7th April 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.