Dusk Masthead

A tribute to the mystery of Marilyn Monroe

Heather Wallace

We might be freezing in our Canberra “spring” but Old Parliament House is about to have a heat wave, a tropical heatwave, thanks to a surprise visit from Marilyn Monroe.

“The temperature’s rising, it isn’t surprising, she certainly can…cancan!”

For two nights only the 20th century’s best loved silver screen goddess comes to Canberra, thanks to the talents of Lexi Sekuless.

Lexi, most recently seen in The Street Theatre’s Constellations, has brought together an ensemble cast to explore our enduring fascination with Marilyn.

This isn’t the first time Lexi has embodied Marilyn, she’s previously performed a one woman show on her life in London, as well as playing her in a group cabaret. In Some Like It Marilyn Lexi combines elements of both shows.

Esh Photography 2010 (1)

“This time round the lighter, glamorous side of the cabaret is set against the poignant parts of Marilyn on her own,” Lex explains. “It weaves together her monologue from Bus Stop with mock interviews based on real footage, to be reflective of her life.”

Marilyn is one of the few superstars whose presence is conveyed in just one name. She continues to enchant and fascinate decades after she died at only 36.

Lexi has long been fascinated with her, not just the blonde bombshell image but the vulnerability inside her.

“I was working on a drama exercise years ago, called ‘float’, where you try to give the sense of being weightless inside and out, and observe your own movement. I started weeping because I suddenly felt this summed up Marilyn. One the one hand it manifests as grace in physical movement but internally it means having nothing to hold on to, nothing to ground you. That was Marilyn.”

With that in mind I ask Lexi how she goes about transforming herself into someone whose image is so well known.

“It’s very practical. I dye my own hair, it’s not a wig and I really enjoy the ritual of setting my hair in hot rollers. Marilyn was the master of her own look, she had a makeup artist she worked closely with, and she could achieve the effect herself. I like to walk in her shoes by doing that too.”

Esh Photography 2017.jpg

Lexi also describes how she exercises her face to get into character. “She has this unique lip pull, learned from her drama teacher.” I point out that Lexi is referring to Marilyn in the present tense and she laughs, not realising she has been. “She is so much part of my life at the moment that I do feel like she’s here,” Lexi says.

“I like the practical, tangible things about her. So many people jump to the salacious gossip but I admire her for her work. The show includes Joe di Maggio talking about her, not about the tabloid stuff but what it was like for her as a working actress who was also married.”

Chatting with Lexi is a great way to share our favourite Marilyn films. Mine are How to Marry A Millionaire and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, because they both feature strong female friendships, with women supporting each other and not competing with each other.

That carried through to the set of Gentleman Preferred Blondes, with Jane Russell, who had been hired to be the star against the little-known Marilyn, helped her more inexperienced co-star by taking her under her wing and protecting her.

Lexi says that film’s ‘Two Little Girls From Little Rock’ duet is in her show, performed alongside Helen MacFarlane. Lexi and Helen’s own relationship mirrors that of Marilyn and Jane’s to a certain extent.

Esh Photography 2017

“Helen is such an experienced cabaret performer and I really wanted her for my first show,” Lexi says. “She is a wonderful presence and gives great advice. She portrays Jane Russell so well, showing the contradiction between her feisty, sexy image and her commitment to her religious faith.”

Lexi’s own favourite Marilyn Monroe film is Some Like It Hot, not surprising given the name of the show.

“She wasn’t particularly proud of that film but she seems so relaxed in it. She is phenomenal at comedy and it shows here. It’s so sad she didn’t realise how very good at comedy she was.”

Performing in Old Parliament House transports the cast and the audience right back to the 1950s and 60s. “It’s such a beautiful building to perform in,” Lexi says. “This is a dinner show and we’re in the Members’ Dining Room, our sets are at each end and work so well against the backdrop of the building.”

Lexi is a big fan of the era’s aesthetic. “The costumes are absolutely gorgeous, and we have lots of shades of red and pink, inspired of course by the fabulous Marilyn dress from ‘Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend’. I get to wear that dress and the feeling is magnificent.”

Esh Photography 2010

The show’s costumes are largely the work of local designer Gloria Grady, who also has a shop front in Manuka filled with sumptuous fabric. “There’s one number when Helen, our pianist and I are all in the most amazing poodle skirts – they’re absolutely huge and utterly gorgeous!”

For all the glitz and glamour of Marilyn’s showbiz life, Lexi admires her for always challenging herself. “She was one of the few actresses bucking the system, not content to just be the dumb-blonde. She is wonderful in Misfits, her last film, she shows what she can really do.”

Despite her image being one of the best known in the last 100 years, Marilyn Monroe continues to be a mystery.

This moving tribute is a chance to get to know her better.

the essentials

What: Some Like It Marilyn
Where: Members’ Dining Room, Old Parliament House
When: 7pm Sunday 10 and Monday 11 September
How much: $40-$100
Tickets: via Eventbrite

Photography: Esh Photography

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Heather Wallace

Heather’s career in arts and heritage PR spans 15 years, with highlights including working for Sean Connery at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and promoting Australia’s World Heritage places. Her blog, Myths and Misadventures, (http://mythsandmisadventures.blogspot.com.au/), is about life lessons we can learn from the Romans. You can follow her on Twitter @Missmythology.

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