Stage

Goodbye Miss Monroe theatre review (Metro Arts, Brisbane)

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It’s 8 August 1962. Marilyn Monroe is dead, and not just Hollywood, but the world, is in mourning. And none more so than Jack Cole, the father of theatrical jazz dance, a choreographer who worked with all the Grande Dames of Hollywood and New York, names like Mitzi Gaynor, Martha Graham, Jane Russell, Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth and, of course, the inimitable Miss Monroe herself.
This 75-minute two-hander is more a monologue than a play, as Cole (played with earnest intensity by Matt Young), reminisces about his largely forgotten career and the women he made into stars. It would be self-pitying and rather dull if it weren’t punctuated by appearances by all the women he mentions, in the person of Anna Burgess, whose astonishing figure, dancing, and mimicry made all seven of them come to life. The wigs helped, too, and congratulations must go to Elia Massimini, who styled them.
Anna Burgess, who trained at the Lee Strasberg School in New York, has been around for a long time, working with Opera Australia, various theatre companies, and extensively in film and television. This is the first time I’ve seen her on stage, and she’s a very versatile actor/dancer, getting her characters’ gestures and eccentricities just right. I hope we see more of her. Her Mitzi Gaynor took me right back!
Matt Young, who trained at NYU, also has an impressive CV, and has worked in both the USA and Australian, as an actor in plays and musical theatre. I think he needs a little more to do in this play, which relies on Burgess to supply both colour and movement – his role allows him to do little more than emote, although his interactions with some of the divas, most notable Gwen Verdon, show what he could do if given the chance.
Writer/director Liam de Burca has also worked in both Broadway and Australia, with a few gigs in the West End as well, and this play is the culmination of his passion for the work of Jack Cole. The historical documentation of Coles’ work is sketchy at best, which accounts for the limited number of dances in the play, but there are enough to give us an indication of how good he was. And although there are a couple of musical numbers, they’re not immediately familiar (Anyone can see I love you, by George Duning, and Betting on a man by Styne and Robin), which doesn’t put too much strain on the two actors. After all, it’s the story and the parade of divas that matter here, and an all-singing, all-dancing show would be next to impossible on de Burca’s limited budget.
That said, this world premiere makes for a good night out, and introduces the work of a choreographer many of us didn’t know about, and it’s impressive enough to be a worthy tribute to another of those Hollywood stars whose light went out too soon.
[box]Goodbye Miss Monroe is at the Metro Arts Theatre, Edward Street, Brisbane until 22 March.  Tickets at metroarts.com.au[/box]

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