mary cecilia brown
rode to town on a malibu bus
she climbed to the top
of the hollywood sign
and with the smallest possible fuss
she jumped off the letter "h"
'cause she did not become a star
she died in less than a minute and a half
she looked a bit like hedy lamarr
In this ballad, Dory Previn relates the tragic tale of Mary C. Brown (born Peg Entwistle), an aspiring English actress who travelled from Broadway to RKO studios, Los Angeles to seek fame and fortune. Aged just 24 on 18 September 1932 she climbed up Mount Lee and the top of the letter H of the iconic Hollywood sign, overlooking the City of Angels.
Inspired by true events, Joanne Hartstone has created a marvellously evocative musical-drama which encapsulates the struggle for stardom, behind the scenes and shining glamour of American show-business. The action begins in 1949 with a medley of romantic songs from the movies, “As Time Goes By” and distant hum of traffic, the stage set with a tall wooden structure, the back view of the Hollywood sign.
Clambering tentatively along the narrow ledge is Evie Edwards, who steps through between a couple of letters: “I didn’t think there would be so many rungs on the ladder” she gasps breathlessly. She is immaculately groomed: perfectly coiffed blonde hair under a pillbox hat with veil and wearing a figure hugging, black dress, “I nearly dropped my purse …. as if it matters.” Like a youthful Marilyn, she has a high pitched voice, wide eyes and a pouting smile around her glossy red lips.
We then hear a brief biography of her life, born 1925 in Missouri where as a young girl, she loved the magic of movie stars, learning to sing like Billie, dance like Ginger and dazzle like Jean Harlow. Jean was another movie star who died too young, from kidney failure, the result of the toxic mix of Lux flakes, peroxide and ammonia to perfect her pure white hair.
Evie’s personal story tracing her own rocky road to the Dream Factory is brilliantly dramatised through a series of short scenes in which Joanne portrays a cast of cameo characters – her gruff, yet kindly father, a Eastern European dance teacher, with a thick accent, fiercely shouting, “Practice, Practice!,” and Chucky the cheerful doorman at MGM studios.
We observe Evie’s girlish glee, switching from hopeful naivety to heartfelt vulnerability as she tries desperately to be noticed. She soon realises that roles are offered to girls who are prettier and thinner, as she sings her heart out at studio auditions. Joanne has a beautiful, soulful voice with the same warm, rich, deeply resonant tone of Judy Garland, as clearly captured in the charmingly romantic, “You Made me Love You” from Easter Parade.
This show has already won numerous, much deserved, awards at Festivals from Adelaide to Hollywood. Joanne Hartstone is an all-round entertainer, oozing comedic, dramatic and musical talent in this magical performance. A true Super Star is Born.
3 – 28 August, 2017 @ 11.30
Ticket Prices: £12 (£11), £13 (£12)
Age guidance: 12+