If you still haven’t gotten over the sudden loss of the train wreck of pop celebrity that was Anna Nicole Smith, then you’re in for a treat. British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage and librettist Richard Thomas have put their heads together and pooled their collective talents on behalf of the big-busted, blond bombshell’s incorrigible fans by producing a musical based on the former entertainer’s sometimes horrifying and often hysterical antics. And the best news for Londoner’s looking to enjoy the fabulous recap of this boozy starlet’s life is that the show will debut at Covent Garden’s own Royal Opera House theatre.
All of your favorite moments will be covered in this extravaganza of depravity, from her stint as a Playboy playmate to her marriage to billionaire (and octogenarian) J. Howard Marshall to her sex-symbol image and subsequent descent into drug use. In other words, you get to see her meteoric rise to fame (her struggle to “rape the American dream”, as she crassly puts it) and the equally rapid descent that followed, ending in her death from drug overdose at the age of 39. But it’s not all fluff; this show has some substance, and by the end you’ll be asking yourself whether it’s better to burn out or fade away.
Anna Nicole has often been portrayed as the tragicomic embodiment of fame gone wrong, but Thomas leaves the question open-ended with his clever libretto. This is not to say that there isn’t plenty of the tabloid smut element that characterized this trailer-park bred American’s “career”, but there are also quite a lot of elements of traditional theatre (such as the Greek chorus portrayed by paparazzi, a variety of jazz themes ranging from upbeat and edgy to the subtly evocative, colorful lighting that speaks to the crazed dream-state that often revolved around the un-reality star, and of course, the over-the-top costumes that we all came to anticipate). And Dutch soprano Eva Marie Westbroek shines in the titular role.
Of course, it simply wouldn’t be Anna Nicole without the sensationalism that surrounded the star, including an abundance of bawdy lyrics, vulgar body-shaking, and drug-induced ramblings that we don’t necessarily want to watch (but we simply can’t turn away from). She may have been a pathetic victim of her own yearning for the finer things in life (despite her inability to recognize or tactfully display them), a mere blow-up doll with a head full of air and a Barbie-doll physique, and an often exploited and over-sexed caricature. Or perhaps she was just a girl out for fun who ended up taking one long roller-coaster ride. Either way, the fame monster put the stars in her eyes and snatched them back too soon.
So while this eye-goggling spectacular based on the outrageous and entertaining life of Anna Nicole Smith will certainly keep you in stitches (or leave you shaking your head in disbelief…again) it will also offer some food for thought. The opening was lauded for its juxtaposition of elements: a compelling musical score, salacious content, and surprisingly gentle handling of the often-fragile superstar’s most memorable moments. The audience gave it a standing ovation and critics have offered unexpected raves. So if you were thinking about sneaking in for a guilty-pleasure viewing, you can now walk in boldly and tell all your friends you went to see what could become the show of the year.