History will remember Marni Nixon, Hollywood’s “ghost” singer (1930-2016)


Marni Nixon Remembered
by Elyse Sommer

There are a many unsung heroes in the film business, but it is Marni Nixon who has saved many a second rate singer’s performance on film from disastrous reviews. Our colleague Elyse Sommer of Curtain Up shared some memories with us (reprinted with permission):

“The stars whose voices Marni Nixon so famously dubbed —Deborah Kerr (The King and I), Audrey Hepburn (My Fair Lady) , Natalie Wood (West Side Story) — are now ghosts, while Marni Nixon, “the ghostess with the mostest,” has enjoyed a front and center musical theater career (Cabaret, James Joyce’s The Dead, Follies), as well as starring in her entertaining biographical show,  Marni Nixon: The Voice of Hollywood.

Just as I predicted after I saw Nixon’s first presentation of her entertaining stage memoir during the summer of 1999, it’s had a life beyond Barrington Stage. And Nixon, who like Elaine Stritch and Barbara Cook, is living proof that musical talent and charm need not fall victim to Father Time, has strengthened her mix of reminiscences, songs and film clips to make this a more sophisticated entertainment. But that’s not to say that it’s become too slick or that Nixon doesn’t retain her warm, intimate connection with the audience or her wonderful sense of humor.

Now in her upper 70s, Nixon’s speaking voice tends to get a bit tired but no matter. What she has to say is interesting and often funny. Best of all, her beautiful soprano which has also graced opera and concert stages is still rich and a joy to hear, and there’s no lack of opportunity to appreciate it. “Tonight,” “Shall We Dance”, “Getting to Know You”, “Hello Young Lovers”, “I Feel Pretty”, “Wouldn’t It Be Lovely” and “I Could Have Danced All Night”. . .these are some of the more famous of the wenty-two songs threaded throughout the two-hour, two-act show. The acoustics in Barrington Stage’s new theater and its spacious stage add to the pleasure — with plenty of room for a screen on which to show the film exceprts, for her excellent accompanyist Bob Goldstone’s piano and for Nixon to move around and at one point even walk off stage and into the aisle.

Julianne Boyd couldn’t have timed Nixon’s return to Barrington Stage better as it’s one-night only special performance took place in the same theater where Boyd’s terrific revival of  West Side Story is in its last week and where the movie version in which Nixon dubbed Natalie Wood premiered when the Union Street venue was still a movie house. To add to the timeliness, Nixon’s book  I Could Have Sung All Night: My Story is now available in paperback so that this is a combination book and stage tour.”

Read more of Elyse Sommer’s Marni Nixon history here.


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