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By Belinda Otas


Wednesday, March 5, 2008.


4 Stars


It's 1955 and the world’s biggest movie star, Marilyn Monroe, is on a mission; to be recognised and taken seriously as an artist in her own right. On the other side is Ella Fitzgerald, a talented jazz singer, who despite her success is also hungry for more.


She would like a slice of the action; fame and that big break with studio bosses and of course, the ultimate film role.


However, the racial divide is still very much a reality even in the entertainment industry. Separated by race, brought together by a mutual admiration for each others talent, Marilyn and Ella is a story about an uncommon friendship between two icons.


A friendship that proves to be fruitful for Fitzgerald, when Monroe, calls in a few favours; which sees her performing at the famous Mocambo night club. There is almost a childlike obsession on the part of Monroe towards Fitzgerald in their new friendship. Her continuous acknowledgement of Fitzgerald as an inspiration has an element of awe about it.


“It's you Ella! You’re the one who puts me to bed at night! You’re the one who gets me up in the morning!” It brings a resonance the audience can identify with through Fitzgerald’s music.


Nicola Hughes is astounding as Fitzgerald, hitting the right notes again and again when she sings. Wendy Morgan delivers a brilliant performance as the iconic troubled Monroe. She gives us the alluring and sensual Monroe all wrapped up in one.


Hughes does not fail to deliver Fitzgerald’s character as a woman who has been on a journey and has experienced her fair share of pain. Hence, she knows how to count the cost and appreciate the opportunity she is given. Together, Hughes and Morgan bring a rare moment of history alive on stage and an art of mastery to their roles and the entire production.


While the first half could have done with more dialogue and interaction between both women, the second half of this musical drama makes up for a lacklustre first half; with a riveting performance from Hughes as she delivers the one great song after another which finally bring life to the show. Even audience members acknowledge their love for Fitzgerald, with outburst such as ‘We love you Ella.’


The musical composition by Warren Mills sure brings an edge to this production, which does its best to bring a moment of history live to the stage. It succeeds in capturing the hearts of the audience. This is one story I had never heard my whole life, and because it was fresh to me, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.


Marilyn and Ella is truly a rare glimpse of history on stage. Without a doubt, it is certainly entertaining.


Written by: Bonnie Greer

Directed by: Colin McFarlane

Assistant Director: Mathilde Lopez

Musical Composer and director: Warren Mills

Designed by Robin Don

Lighting by Tim Mascall

Sound Design by James Tebb

Choreography by Nick Peel


Cast: Nicola Hughes and Wendy Morgan


Marilyn and Ella is currently showing at Theatre Royal Stratford East until March 15, 2008.

For more information, visit: www.stratfordeast.com

Tel: 020 8 534 0310.



Belinda Otas is a London-based freelance journalist and The New Black Magazine's theatre editor. She can be reached at belindaotas@thenewblackmagazine.com


Please e-mail comments to comments@thenewblackmagazine.com





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