“When you think about it, she became Marilyn. It was a process,” says Erin Sullivan, while putting on her makeup for the one-woman, 70-minute show in which she transforms — as did the young Norma Jeane Baker — into the iconic Hollywood blond bombshell Marilyn Monroe.
Sullivan finishes the task onstage in her cabaret tribute “With Love, Marilyn,” which makes its Long Island debut Oct. 12 in a co-production with Gateway Playhouse at the Patchogue Theatre. After putting on the platinum ’do she had custom-made by Tera Willis, head of wigs and makeup at the Metropolitan Opera, Sullivan pencils the sexy signature mole onto her cheek. “I want to remind the audience that I, too, am a person portraying a person.”
Sullivan’s journey portraying Marilyn began in 2016 with “Marilee and Baby Lamb: The Assassination of an American Goddess,” written by Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Mark Medoff. The Broadway-bound drama explores the friendship Monroe shared in the last years of her life with Lena Pepitone, her close confidant and seamstress.
“With Love, Marilyn,” which Sullivan conceived with Robin Milling and wrote with Stephanie Rosenberg, also “conveys emotions the public has not been privy to,” private sentiments, says the multitalented actress, extracted from recordings of Monroe that she stumbled on while preparing for her role in Medoff’s production.
In her solo tribute, Sullivan weaves some of these reveals, many about Monroe's relationships with ex-husbands — Yankees star Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller -- while singing some dozen or so Monroe classics. A three-piece band -- Garrett Taylor on piano with local musicians Keenan Paul Zach on bass and Joshua Endlich on drums -- accompanies her in newly orchestrated arrangements of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” and “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” by Broadway musical director Henry Aronson.
The show’s premise also involves a forthcoming dress rehearsal for a live show the screen great had dreamed about but never got to do, according to Monroe historian Samantha McLaughlin, who vetted all the performance material. Monroe appeared only twice before live audiences — once in a seductive rendition of “Happy Birthday” performed for President John F. Kennedy and another time to entertain the American troops in Korea.
At 37, Sullivan, a Broadway national tour veteran with a history of portraying quirky blondes, has already outlived her subject, who was 36 when she died in 1962. Playing the breathy movie star, she admits, is hard: “It’s an emotional journey and there’s a lot of vocal gymnastics.”
While projecting the ingenue image on-screen, Monroe was anything but. “She was a very, very smart woman,” notes Sullivan of the actress who was known to possess hundreds of books and listen regularly to Beethoven. “She was truly a pioneer in a man’s world. She owned her own production company and was very comfortable embracing her sexuality. It was mind-blowing. People hadn’t seen that.” Even so, Sullivan adds, “I’m not envious of the choices she made. The games she played weighed on her.”
With Love, Marilyn
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Oct. 12 and 13, Patchogue Theatre, 71 E. Main St.
INFO $25 to $65; 631-207-1313, patchoguetheatre.org