By John Katsilometes Las Vegas Review-Journal
April 2, 2018 – 8:44 pm
We’re about to see just how many gentlemen — and women — prefer blondes.
“Marilyn! The New Musical,” an original production about the life of Marilyn Monroe and her younger life as Norma Jean Baker, opens for previews May 23 at Paris Theater at Paris Las Vegas.
The show’s grand opening is June 1, which would have been Monroe’s 92nd birthday.
Two years in development, “Marilyn” runs a Strip-friendly 90 minutes with no intermission, and begins at 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. As previously reported, the show is staged in the 1,200-seat theater that was formerly home to “Jersey Boys” and, currently, the pyrotechnic spectacle “Inferno.” Tickets start at $49 (not including fees) and go on sale 10 a.m. Friday.
The production is a partnership between Tegan Summer, chief executive officer of Prospect House Entertainment, and Authentic Brands Group, which owns the Estate of Marilyn Monroe. Thus, this is a licensed, fully authorized account of Monroe’s life.
The show’s star is fit for the task. Ruby Lewis, late of “Baz — A Musical Mashup” at Palazzo Theater, who dazzled audiences with her powerhouse voice (and Monroe-esque appearance) in that show and also Cirque du Soleil’s “Paramour” on Broadway.
Summer showcased the production at The Space in August. He is clearly banking on the universal appeal of Monroe’s name and image to sell tickets in a city where even Elvis Presley (whose licensed show flopped after a five-week run at Westgate Las Vegas in May 2015) has struggled to fill a theater. But Summer is well-resourced and well-connected in his many licensing deals, including the estates of Bettie Page, another new musical to hit town by the end of the year, and James Dean.
The show is musically ambitious, filled with 20 original songs from Summer and Gregory Nabours. Summer knows talent, too, having recruited a team of Vegas entertainment all-stars to perform in “Marilyn.”
Randal Keith, of “Monty Python’s Spamalot” at Encore Theater, “Phantom — The Las Vegas Spectacular” at Venetian Theater, and “Steve Wynn’s Showstoppers,” also at Encore Theater, is cast as producer Darryl F. Zanuck. Travis Cloer, one of the Frankie Valli actors in “Jersey Boys” at Palazzo Theater and Paris Las Vegas, plays celeb photographer Milton Greene. Lindsay Roginski, also of “Showstoppers,” plays Jane Russell. Chris Fore, in the “Jersey Boys” ensemble, is Monroe’s boyfriend in Las Vegas, Bill Pursel.
Los Angeles actress Brittney Bertier (“Seussical”) plays Norma Jean, Monroe’s alter-ego and counterbalance in the production. Frank Lawson (“Memphis,” “When Jazz Had the Blues”) narrates as Charlie, Monroe’s confidant and chauffeur.
“I’m really happy with the cast,” Summer says. “We have the cream of the crop from Vegas, some top L.A. and Broadway talent, too.”
But the show is also remarkable for an early void in casting strategy. Summer has for months sought a Hollywood celeb to take the primary role of Marilyn when Lewis — billed as the “resident” Marilyn — is not onstage.
One of those being sought, Lindsay Lohan, was introduced to the project by EDM superstar Steve Aoki, with whom Summer is also partnering on a Las Vegas production. The two were in serious talks as recently as last week before Summer opted to hold off casting Lohan, or any celeb, in the primary role.
“Honestly, this is what keeps me awake at 3 a.m.,” Summer says. “We are 100 percent going to cast a star as Marilyn. But with Lindsay Lohan, to open with her, I just felt everyone would be coming to see Lindsay and not the show. As we open, ‘Marilyn’ is the star, and Ruby is the star.”
Summer says a national name — and likely more than one — will be introduced to the show on the June 1 red-carpet event. As it is, the production is working to cohabitate with “Inferno.” Summer’s team is redesigning the theater stage with a thrust for the famous subway scene from “Seven Year Itch,” when a gust of wind lifts Monroe’s skirt above her waist.
The show also employs a live, eight-piece band (yes!), to be presented onstage and costumed in tuxedos.
Though he moved his operation to Las Vegas just last summer, Summer already has a reputation of an ambitious, adventurous, even far-flung entertainment figure. He plans to have his Bettie Page musical (where pinup star Sabina Kelley is a creative consultant) written and ready for rehearsals by July. Summer wants the Aoki project onstage in the first quarter of 2019.
But now, it’s all about the iconic blonde. As the producer promises, “This will be the Marilyn you know, and the Marilyn you don’t know.”
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