Perfect Ghost exposes the secrets and sadness behind the glamorous façade of Hollywood.
The show tells the story of Marni Nixon, a ghost singer of the 1950s. Unbeknownst to many, Nixon was hired to record vocals to dub the singing voices of some of Hollywood’s most famous movie musical actresses, including Audrey Hepburn, Natalie Wood and Deborah Kerr. Perfect Ghost juxtaposes the lives of these actresses with that of Nixon, and is both comical and heart-breaking. This one-woman show is both written and performed by Anna Kristina Read.
In only 25 minutes, Read takes us through many memories of Nixon’s childhood (including her mother’s advice: “you’re either perfect or you’re nothing”), numerous jobs as a ghost singer and the difficulties she faced throughout this career. Despite relishing in the respect and power she gained from those in the music industry, it is clear that she felt resentment towards the actresses whose careers and fame she was boosting from behind the scenes. The humour and excitement of the job went hand-in-hand with many thankless moments. When asked to sign a no credit clause, Nixon was informed that if she told anyone about her job she would never work in the industry again. With two children to support, Marni was left without a choice.
The show begins with the song ‘Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?’ from My Fair Lady being played. For many this is a song that sparks nostalgia and joy when they listen to it, but from the moment Read steps on stage it is clear that her feelings towards it are entirely different. Throughout the show other famous musical songs featuring Nixon’s vocals, such as ‘Shall We Dance’ from The King And I, are interjected. The monologues delivered are tainted with an air of sadness over a life spent in the shadow of others, highlighted particularly in moments where Read pauses and stares blankly at the audience or softly sings some of the most famous songs of her career. The retro quality of her singing voice is both beautiful and haunting.
The venue (a small back room in an artist club) feels appropriate for the subject of the play, and ensures intimacy between audience and actor. The set’s simplicity, which only consists of three photo frames and a chair, means that there is no distraction from Nixon’s story, although at times the chair feels a little useless. Lighting is used during moments of emotional intensity, but only colour washes such as red and blue. This does not add particularly to the piece and Read herself is able to captivate the audience and change the mood without this use of lighting.
Wearing a blue satin dress and pearls, Read exudes poise and integrity throughout the piece and proves that behind external perfection is often a story that is far different.
Perfect Ghost is playing at the Phoenix Artist Club until 15 August. For more information and tickets, see the Phoenix Artist Club website.