By BART GREENBERG****Cabaret tributes to performers (as opposed to songwriters) tend to come in three categories: dull life facts; pale imitations; or passion for the performer’s persona rather than the performer’s music. Not always, but usually. And then comes Marilyn in Fragments starring Marissa Mulder. More theatre piece than cabaret, Mulder has chosen to present an interpretation of the never-named Monroe’s psyche, interweaving songs (some complete, some in snippets, some recurring) and comments to create a portrait of a contradictory, vulnerable and yet resolute star. It would be unclear to someone wandering in if these spoken lines are invented or from interviews and diaries, but they are Monroe’s actual words)
Guided by director Sondra Lee, and with able assist from musical director Jon Weber, who also often serves as back-up vocalist, pianist and acting partner, Mulder never misses a beat in this demanding role that she has created for herself. Stepping out of character only at the end to acknowledge her colleagues and the enthusiastic audience, the center of the evening is all Marilyn.
The song list is fascinating: only one number was actually performed by the film icon (“My Heart Belongs to Daddy”) which gives Mulder her biggest chance to channel Monroe, flirting with the “daddies” in the audience. The rest of the songs range as far back as 1808 (“Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms”) and as recent as 2016 (“Bird Set Free” by Sia Kate Isobelle Furler and Tobias Jesso Jr.). Along the way, there are some songs that one wishes Monroe had had a chance to record (“It’s Only a Paper Moon,” “My Coloring Book,” and “I’ve Got a Crush on You”) and the suggestion of at least one intriguing role she might have played (Dot in Sunday in the Park with George).
The sung material is chosen to reflect different aspects of the star’s personality, often in conflict. Noel Coward’s “Chase Me, Charlie” perfectly encapsulates Monroe’s mixed desires to be perceived as innocent and to be desired as a sex kitten. “You Can Have The TV” runs through a rainbow of emotions at the end of one of her marriages, from resignation to bitterness to despair, especially as it is immediately followed by “My Coloring Book.” The hysterical/tragic “The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)” (Tom Waits) captured the self-destructive aspect of her personality.
There are no further performances of Fragments announced at the moment, but it is hoped it will return in expanded form, perhaps in a theater setting. Either way, it is a notable achievement for Marissa Mulder.
Editor’s Note: This show was seen at NYC’s Laurie Beechman Theatre. Ms. Mulder can be seen at the Metropolitan Room (34 West 22 St.) on July 20 singing the Bob Dylan songbook, on Mondays from 9 pm to 12 pm with pianist Bill Zeffiro at his restaurant gig at La Rivista on West 46th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues (Restaurant Row). See www.marissamulder.com for more info.