Marilyn, Mom & Me in Long Beach and Sweeney Todd in Pasadena

Luke imagines meeting Marilyn Monroe on the night she and his mother, Eileen Eckart, attended Ella Fitzgerald’s performance at the Mocambo. (L-R) Brian Rohan, Alisha Soper, and Laura Gardner in the World Premiere of Marilyn, Mom & Me by Luke Yankee at International City Theatre in Long Beach. (Photo by Paul Kennedy)

Attempting to better understand his complicated relationship with his mother, award-winning actress Eileen Heckart, playwright Luke Yankee delves into her friendship with Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe during their work together on Bus Stop, one of Monroe’s most enduring dramatic performances, in the world premiere of his deeply personal docudrama, Marilyn, Mom & Mewhich he also directs as the 2024 season opener for International City Theatre in Long Beach. I thoroughly enjoyed Yankee’s very personal, informative, entertaining, and engaging play, featuring top notch performances, period-perfect costumes designed by Kimberly DeShaza, on a multi-level, quick-change location set designed by Dan Volonte, highlighted by historical projections.

Eileen Heckart, the no-nonsense, multi-award-winning Broadway actress, and Marilyn Monroe, the glamorous Hollywood legend, developed an enduring bond during the filming, eventually opening their hearts to each other about their mutually lonely childhoods growing up without a father. Forty-five years later, Yankee, who never met Monroe personally as his two older brothers had, tries to unravel his mother’s relationship with Monroe to better understand his own path as a gay man in the arts with the non-accepting, highly critical woman he called “Mom.” Begging for her praise for his artistic efforts, if Luke can get her to talk about Monroe, maybe it will make Eileen a more sympathetic mother – or at least help him to connect with her on another, deeper level as the end of her life approaches.

“In 1956, when Marilyn was cast as the lead in the film Bus Stop, she was the biggest star in the world,” says Yankee. “She had taken the previous year off to study with Lee Strasberg and had become the poster child for ‘method’ acting, where an actor must experience every moment on set truthfully. My mother was cast as her best friend in the movie, and, as a part of her newly discovered style of acting, Marilyn was determined to make my mother her best friend, both on screen and off. Reluctantly, Eileen went along with it for the sake of the film and found herself emotionally entrenched in Marilyn’s life.” But did you know Marilyn, tired of being “merchandized off the Hollywood push cart,” also produced the movie, making her “technically in charge” as the head of MMP (Marilyn Monroe Productions), which allowed her to make decisions on cinematography with director Josh Logan, who had to adapt to his “boss’s” chronic tardiness and perfectionism?

“My mother loved to talk about her career… except when it came to Marilyn,” he continues. “Whenever she would do so, she would get very quiet and change the subject. If pressed, she would burst into tears. No one else she worked with had this effect on her.” And as Marilyn, Mom & Me upfolds, populated by celebrities involved in their lives during the filming, it was easy to understand the deep mutual pain and joy these two women shared, and the guilt riddling Heckart that she had stayed in touch with the star, perhaps preventing Marilyn from taking her own life at 36 in 1962.

Featured in the cast are Laura Gardner as Eileen Heckart, who brilliantly takes us along through every human emotion as she gets to know Marilyn while attempting to be a good mother; Alisha Soper who totally enchants as the successful but ultimately lonely Marilyn Monroe; Noah Wagner who morphs from Bus Stop director Joshua Logan to others working on the film, Arthur Miller, and the owner of the Mocambo (a mostly whites-only club in the mid-fifties) who Marilyn convinces with her sexy, feminine ways to hire Ella Fitzgerald, promising him she would be at a ringside seat with other celebrity friends at Ella’s every performance (which she did); Jacquelin Lorraine Schofield who strikingly portrays Heckart’s best friend Rosetta LeNoire, jazz great Ella Fitzgerald, and Marilyn’s acting coach Paula Strasberg; and Brian Rohan who effectively embodies the many sides and ages of Luke, with the playwright and director guiding him to brilliantly assume his own identity.

I highly recommend the world premiere of Marilyn, Mom & Me, written and directed by Luke Yankee and produced for International City Theatre by caryn desai [sic], which continues through March 3 on Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m., at International City Theatre at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center, 330 East Seaside Way, Long Beach 90802. Pay parking lots onsite. Tickets are $49 evenings, and $52 for Sunday matinees, at or by phone (562) 436-4610. Available seats are sold at the box office prior to performances.

Geoff Elliott and Cassandra Marie Murphy star as Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett at A Noise Within. (Photo by Craig Schwartz)

With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler, the Tony Award-winning operatic musical Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street encompasses stunning terror, razor-sharp wit, and extraordinary soaring music in a tragicomic Victorian Age tale of murder, mayhem, and meat pies. The hauntingly chilling story explores love, loss, and blood-soaked revenge handed out by knife-wielding Sweeney Todd (charismatic bass Geoff Elliott) who returns to London hoping to re-start his life after unwarranted jail time. Instead, he finds his wife dead and his daughter Johanna in the hands of evil Judge Turpin (tall and slinky Jeremy Rabb).  

In his rage, Sweeney takes his revenge on the populace of London with the help of his wily neighbor; Mrs. Lovett (sterling soprano Cassandra Marie Murphy) by luring his victims in, promising the most excellent shave of their lives. But once seated, each customer’s life is ended with a flick of Sweeney’s razor (no blood is splattered, rather just the suggestion of it via red lighting designed by Ken Booth), and then dispatched to Mrs. Lovett who chops them up and bakes them into the most delicious and popular meat pies on Fleet Street. Due to the popularity of her shop, Mrs. Lovett hires an assistant to help with the dirty work, but shocked street urchin Tobias Ragg (Josey Montana McCoy) seals his fate when he complains about finding hair and fingernails in the meat pie filling.

Of course, there’s a love story running through all the bloodshed between the appropriately named Anthony Hope (handsome James Everts), the sailor who returned Sweeney to London and then falls in love with Sweeney’s long-lost daughter Johanna (raven-haired beauty Joanna A. Jones). Amid the bloodshed, one of the most beautiful songs in the show, “Johanna,” is often reprised to remind us that perhaps some good can come out of this seemingly brutal story. Its impact on the audience’s emotions, especially when wanting it to work out for the young lovers against all odds, is always chilling, to say the least.

Ensemble players of note include Amber Liekhus as the Beggar Woman, Harrison White as the most proper Victorian court clerk Beadle Bamford, flame-haired Kasey Mahaffy as the ultimate showman Pirelli, and the entire ensemble who not only harmonize beautifully thanks to music director Rod Bagheri, but also keep the production moving swiftly via director Julia Rodriquez-Elliott’s exquisite, scene-changing choreography on scenic designer Francois-Pierre Couture’s movable piece set.

Performances of Sweeney Todd take place through March 17 on Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. (dark Feb. 29); Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sundays at 2 p.m. at A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena 91107. Post–performance conversations will take place every Friday and on Sunday, February 25.  In addition, nine student matinees will take place on weekday mornings at 10:30 a.m. Interested educators should email Tickets start at $29. Student tickets start at $18. Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more. Sweeney Todd is recommended for ages 14 and up. For more information and to purchase tickets, call (626) 356–3100 or go to