The Voice Behind the Stars at the Seymour Centre
Eliza Jackson as Marni Nixon
Eliza Jackson as Marni Nixon
Eliza Jackson as Marni Nixon
The Voice Behind the Stars tells the story of of the most prolific ghost singer of all time, Marni Nixon. What drew you to Nixon and, taking on her character in this one woman show, how do you think she felt being the voice behind some of the world’s best loved musical characters of all time without getting any of the credit?
It was actually my mum who came up with the idea to do a show about Marni Nixon’s life. I had grown up watching and loving those beautiful old movie-musicals and when I found out about Marni’s part in them, I knew I had to write about it. She really was an incredible woman and to be able to play her is so much fun. I think she had mixed feelings about the whole situation. Marni was incredibly optimistic - despite being physically threatened to keep her mouth shut, she was so thrilled to be involved in these iconic movie-musicals and had a wonderful time (for the most part) recording them. But I think by the time she recorded West Side Story she could see that something wasn't right. The lack of credit and the unfair payment was something that really started to get to her and she felt very strongly about it. It was actually largely because of her and her work to be credited that dubbers today are paid and credited accordingly.
Do you have a personal favourite song in her repertoire?
There are too many to choose from! I love all her work in West Side Story as Maria, but I think her vocals in the King and I are just flawless and match Deborah Kerr perfectly.
Many audiences would likely be surprised to find out that some of the best-known movie musicals – including My Fair Lady, The King and I and West Side Story – featured Hollywood’s leading ladies in front of the camera, and Marni Nixon’s classically trained Soprano voice. What have audience reactions been like as they discovered this fact? And, if you remember, when you learnt of Nixon’s hidden career, what was your response?
Yes! There are always a few gasps in the audience through the show. Some audience members even stay behind after the show to tell me how shocked they are. I love how a lot of them will smugly tell me they knew some of the films Marni dubbed for, but even the biggest fans will have a surprise or two in there.
When I first started looking into Marni’s career, I have to say I was shocked too, but I wasn’t surprised. Dubbing was very much a done thing back in the 50s and 60s, and actually is still happening in films today. But the more I read about Marni and the more bits of trivia I discovered, the more fascinated I became. She was involved in over fifty Hollywood films in her career and yet most people have never even heard her name!
What has your creative process entailed in becoming Marni and all her various characters?
In Marni’s later years, after the secrets were exposed by the one and only Deborah Kerr, she did a lot of interviews, so there is a fair amount of footage which really helped me in my character study. She also wrote a gorgeous autobiography called ‘I Could Have Sung All Night’ that was very helpful in the writing process. I also had to watch all the films she dubbed for over and over again… I mean there are worse ways to prepare for a character! Snuggled up on the sofa, drinking endless cups of tea and watching The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady is my idea of heaven!
It's no secret that Hollywood isn't what it always seems and the story of Marni Nixon is perfect proof. 'The Voice Behind the Stars,' on at the Seymour Centre in Sydney this January, tells the story of the most prolific ghost singer in history - and what is a ghost singer you may ask? Marni Nixon voiced some of the most memorable songs in movie musical history but received none of the credit for her voice. Instead, you'll recognise these songs as being sung by Audrey Hepburn, Deborah Kerr, Natalie Wood and Marilyn Monroe, to name just a few. Dubbing for more than 50 Hollywood films, it's time we got to know The Voice Behind the Stars. Carly spoke with actor, Eliza Jackson, who takes on the role of Nixon. Read more below:
Why do you think this story will resonate well with Australian audiences?
We have all seen those wonderful movie-musicals from the 50s and 60s. Whether we’re musical lovers or not, we all know the tunes to almost all the songs. And let’s be honest, we all love a good bit of gossip. And this really is the juiciest kind of gossip – first-hand stories about Hollywood stars, threats and warnings, love affairs, loss – Marni’s story is really one for the history books. This show really has something for everyone.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS
Favourite production you have ever seen?
Impossible! Wicked was the first show I ever saw on Broadway so that will always hold a special place in my heart. End of the Rainbow which is a show about Judy Garland is probably the most special show I’ve ever seen and I just saw a brand new play on The West End called The Inheritance and I can’t stop thinking about it… It’s almost seven hours of theatre but I’m already trying to see how I can fit it in and see it again.
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
Ah! Well as I write this it is freezing cold and raining here in London where I live, so I would have to say somewhere warm! Bali maybe? Or a trip home to Oz is always my first choice!
Dream role to perform?
It’s funny, I used to have a whole list of them… But at the moment I’m actually enjoying writing my owns roles to perform so much more. So really, it’s about finding the next dream role to write for me!
Plays or musicals?
Oh, musicals for sure. But plays come in a very close second.
A hobby you have beyond the theatre?
I’m teaching myself how to rollerblade… I’m AWFUL but it’s so much fun and I must be hilarious to watch.
What’s next for you after this show?
We’re in talks for a UK tour of this show and then a London run which would be brilliant. I am also already thinking about the next show I’m going to write. I’m hoping my mum might have another brilliant gem of an idea brewing for me, but I’ve definitely got some ideas too.
The Voice Behind the Stars plays at the Seymour Centre on January 23rd and 24th. Tickets are available here. Melbourne and Perth, catch Eliza this Jan/Feb as well by clicking on the links for tickets.