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Alex Theatre musical pays tribute to Marilyn Monroe

Tegan Summer, an actor and producer, is a life-long classic film fan, who was intrigued by Marilyn Monroe, from her tragic upbringing to her enormous success in show business.

In commemoration of the film star's 90th birthday on June 1, he wrote and directed a new musical titled "Marilyn!" as a tribute to Monroe.

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Summer is chief executive of Prospect House Entertainment, which in partnership with Glendale Arts Productions, will present the new musical next Friday at the Alex Theatre in Glendale.

Summer acknowledged the numerous stories that have been told of Monroe in the past.

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"But this, we believe, is a story no one else has heard, so much so that we also tell the story in a unique way," he said.

While many are familiar with Monroe's iconic roles in "Some Like It Hot," "The Seven Year Itch" and "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," fewer know much about her personal story.

Monroe was born Norma Jean Baker, a seemingly unremarkable orphan who spoke with a stutter and grew up in and out of orphanages and the foster care system.

Despite her humble beginnings, Baker turned out to be anything but ordinary as she skyrocketed toward fame and became Marilyn Monroe.

Nonetheless, Summer delved more deeply into Monroe's life.

"I see past the platinum blonde, red lips and white dress on the subway grate. I see Norma Jean in her. That's what compelled me to write this and celebrate the woman. There's a lot we can all take to our benefit," Summer said.

Summer focused on young Norma Jean Baker, who read Photoplay magazine by moonlight and dreamed of becoming a star.

"When you look behind the smile, her eyes and the curtain, you realize that it was a miracle, to a degree. Norma Jean never left Marilyn Monroe. She was heavily insecure and always on a quest to learn and, simply, she wanted to be loved," Summer said.

In writing "Marilyn!" Summer noted that even at the height of her career, Monroe was severely depressed and longed to go back to being Norma Jean, to return to simpler times.

"What a dichotomy. That was the theme during my musical. I wrote with it in mind to the extent that I actually split the actresses' [performances]," Summer said.

In the production, Kelley Dorney plays Norma Jean Baker, and Kelley Jakle, star of the "Pitch Perfect" and "Pitch Perfect 2," plays Marilyn Monroe.

Set in present day, "Marilyn!" opens with a young journalist named Michelle Morgan, who investigates the life of Marilyn Monroe in commemoration of her 90th birthday, and she happens upon Marilyn's former chauffeur Charlie Page, who tells Marilyn's story in flashback.

"What makes me really excited about this production is that it's Marilyn, off-screen. There are explorations of that, but we really explore Norma Jean and Marilyn separately and in juxtaposition to each other," Jakle said.

"A lot of people think she was the movie star, but we don't really focus on that side of her. All the things that are happening around her, that is the story we're telling, and I think our version is extra special, because we look at (her) as Norma Jean and Marilyn, [both] happening at once," Dorney said.

Ferly Prado, who has danced with Beyonce among other entertainers in concert, and Victoria Gracie, an actress and professional dancer, collaborated on the choreography, and Mar Yvette, host of "Good Day L.A.," will host the show.

In addition to the world premiere of "Marilyn," the Alex Theatre will also feature an exhibition of the starlet's clothing and artifacts, as well as interviews with those who knew her personally, such as Don Murray, co-lead in "Bus Stop," and James Karen, an award-winning film actor who was Marilyn's classmate at the Actors Studio in New York.

"With the Alex, I get to do a lot more than just a musical; Alex is home for me," Summer said.

The Alex Theatre is just the beginning for "Marilyn!" Prospect House Entertainment has plans in the works to take the musical to Beverly Hills, Las Vegas and China in the next year.

This isn't the first time that Summer and chief executive of Glendale Arts Productions, Elissa Glickman, have collaborated on a project. In recent years, they mutually created film screenings with question-and-answer conversations and retrospectives on the lives of entertainers such as the Nicholas Brothers and Loretta Young.

"We just keep producing together. It's been a remarkable and fruitful relationship," Summer said.

Glendale Arts Productions is part of Glendale Arts, the nonprofit organization which manages the Alex Theatre.

Summer also partnered with Hollygrove, Monroe's former orphanage in Los Angeles. A portion of the proceeds from the musical will be donated to Hollygrove.

The philanthropy doesn't stop there, as Summer will also donate proceeds to fund Prado's clothing line, wearsuccess.com, to clothe the girls at Hollygrove.

"No matter where the show goes, I'll be supporting the young girls of Hollygrove forever," Summer said.

"Marilyn!" will be presented at 7:30 p.m. next Friday at the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd.

For more information or tickets, visit alextheatre.org.

Toy is a contributor to Times Community News.

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