Recently we heard casting news about Norma Jeane: The Musical (due this September): that Atomic Kitten singer Kerry Katona is to play the main character Marilyn Monroe. The language in the tweet I used on finding out this casting news was not my finest hour and I’m fairly certain I turned the air blue. This casting news probably upset me more than any X-Factor musical could and I find it a little insulting to musical theatre actors.
Firstly, Marilyn Monroe has been the focus of many theatre makers over time, and in the US a whole backstage style musical TV drama, Smash, was made about the creation and casting of a Marilyn Monroe musical. There is an element of it being too soon for a Monroe-inspired show as many musical theatre fans did enjoy Smash and its original music. However, I question if this new musical would be intended for hard core musical theatre fans.
My second issue with this musical is how the writer and director Belevedere Pashun justified the casting of Kerry Katona: “I needed an actor of huge talent, personality and experience – Kerry was at the top of my list”. Life experience is of course important in acting but an audience will be paying to see Marilyn Monroe’s story and not a re-enactment of Kerry Katona’s turbulent career. Acting is about playing other people and finding ways into the characters, I doubt any real serial killers have been cast as Sweeney Todd, and as such it feels almost an insult that it is not a musical theatre performer in the lead role.
Even Katona has admitted that “for me, acting is just dead easy. You’re somebody else and you leave your world behind”, therefore implying that Katona also believes you don’t have to have had the same life as your character to portray it on stage. At the end of the day, Katona has been chosen over established talent. I do concede that there is of course a chance that she will be brilliant in this role and we will have a hit show about iconic figure Marilyn Monroe in London soon.
What are the chances of this musical being a success, though? Debatable as mentioned, but the odds aren’t great considering Pashun’s latest show Wag: The Musical was universally panned by critics as an “offensively bad, completely unfunny mess of a show that hasn’t decided whether it wants to mock or glorify the ridiculous lifestyles of its female stars”. Thirdly, a friend pointed out to me that the company of the musical, who will most likely be musical theatre performers, are also tied to the fate of the show. In a notoriously fickle and harsh industry, performers have to audition for the shows agents send them for, as work can be scarce and then they run the risk of being attached to a flop which may affect future job prospects and is generally demoralising if you only have short term work as opposed to a longer contract.
Of course, as with all new musical theatre writing I hope to be proved wrong and that in a few months I will be blogging about how wrong I was about Norma Jeane: the Musical and Kerry Katona…