Good-bye Miss Monroe is here for a strictly limited season at Chapel off Chapel. We spoke with talented Director and Writer, Liam de Burca and fabulous leading lady Anna Burgess about the show now it has finally reached Melbourne! (Photos: Ange Leggas)
The play tells the untold story of Hollywood dance-director Jack Cole and his professional relationship with many iconic women of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Cole, is often considered the forgotten legend and the ‘father of jazz dance’. The show has just finished its Brisbane tour and received glowing reviews. “The response was quite amazing. I felt a great sense of ‘mission accomplished’ when members of the audiences told me they were going home to google Jack Cole and all the women in the show” de Burca said. Burgess adds audiences are “surprised they never knew who Jack Cole was, they had no idea he created ‘Diamonds are a girls best friend’ with Marilyn… also with the women, no one understood what happened to Rita Hayworth after her glamorous career. People want to learn more after the taste they get from this story”.
On working with this team de Burca admits that he is “quite speechless about the talents of Matt Young and Anna Burgess and ease in which we’ve worked together”. Not to mention the talents of Lighting Designer Jason Bovaird who “completely transforms the stage in absolutely no time at all…what else can I say but it is truly a Dream Team and then some!”. Burgess agrees explaining “we like to say that its kismet because… we’ve all had these similar journeys and come together later in our careers. Liam was an incredible Broadway and West End star. Now he is writing and directing and that’s so special to be a part of that journey”.
When we think of Marilyn Monroe, we all have a moment that comes to mind, whether it’s that ‘white dress’ or her sultry rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ to the President of the United States. de Burca says he wasn’t a big Marilyn fan until he “came across some journals of Cole’s and learnt about his very long association and deep friendship with Marilyn”. His favourite Marilyn moment is now in the play “because it shows a very endearing side to Marilyn that we’ve never seen and because of the brilliance of Anna Burgess it is definitely something I will never forget”. Burgess reflects on the many interpretations of Marilyn saying “I just love that she worked so hard at her craft. She studied and read and rehearsed all the time and never stopped and wanted to be seen for so much more than her persona but it was carved in stone. Its really not about the pink dress, blonde hair or sexiness. It’s this little girl who wanted to have a family and to be loved and seen. A beautiful woman.”
Pop cultural icon and quintessential American sex symbol Marilyn Monroe’s final years were masked by illness and personal struggles. There is no doubt the world has at some stage been intrigued by her life. The play delights audiences by sharing another softer side to Marilyn in the early era where Cole helped create her. “So far we’ve only had loving fan experiences which is great, perhaps because the show is ultimately about respect for those who came before us” de Burca said. Burgess admits “I’m nervous because the head of the Marilyn Monroe fan club is coming to Melbourne…I think I understand Marilyn myself from my experience, my research and my love of her but gosh, fans know everything!”
Marilyn isn’t the only star of this show, however they are all portrayed by one. Burgess takes on the roles of seven women. Writer de Burca takes us through his characters “Mitzi Gaynor – one of the brightest young stars that came through the end of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Marilyn Monroe – in the play aged 23… one minute she’s a nobody and suddenly she’s skyrocketing to having top billing in a major motion picture. Martha Graham – inspired Jack Cole and she certainly inspired me too. Gwen Verdon – Cole’s assistant for many years…to survive 60 years in show business you’ve got to be a saint. Jane Russell – a leading lady but she was really devoted to being just a team member which is a great example of humility that we often need to be reminded of. Betty Grable – the first female star to have a body part (her legs) insured for $1 million – how camp is that! And Rita Hayworth – her story is even sadder than Monroe’s in many ways”. Then there is Jack Cole, played by Matt Young “a man partially responsible for making dance commercially accessible. A deeply intense artist who was also much more than just a choreographer”. Burgess says “ I feel so honoured to work on these women. I can’t tell you how much I respect them and the paths they have carved for women in theatre and film”.
On finding this cast de Burca feels he’s been given a gift. He hadn’t thought Australia would be the place to “mount the show” but once he met Young, who in turn introduced him to Burgess “the combination was just too ridiculously world class to walk away from”. From then it has been the three of them, working tirelessly together to get the show to where it is today and de Burca says its “a wonderful way to work – less is more!” Having a truly admirable and rich history in theatre de Burca decided to write this play to hopefully “show the audience the depth of work and the passion that exists in the so-called commercial theatre world”. He continues “of course I also hope that audiences have a wonderful night at the theatre because after all, what else is the theatre for?” The play was inspired by de Burca’s youth, where he grew up learning Jack Cole technique. He says that Cole’s “tenacity and determination has been the backbone of my own persistence and my source of inspiration”.
Goodbye Miss Monroe is at Chapel off Chapel for a strictly limited season, opening Wednesday 30 April, 2014. Don’t miss this one!