Marni Nixon. You might not know her name but you sure as hell know her voice.
Dubbed ‘the ghostess with the mostess’ (what a horrible rhyme, as Marni would say) she was renowned throughout the movie circuit for her perfect pitch, versatile voice and ability to adopt languages, making her one of the most employed ghost singers of Old Hollywood. Though you probably don’t even know it.
Of course, no evening with Velma Celli wouldn’t be complete without a few surprises and she doesn’t disappoint. Equinox will bring out your dark side, so embrace it and howl at the moon a little. With bitchy, witchy and wonderful tributes to the devilish and disenfranchised, Velma Celli will put a spell on you and now you’re hers!
Giving her voice is this 60-minute biography (23 January). It’s a one-woman show, carried by the marvellous Eliza Jackson who herself could be considered a vocal chameleon. No sidekick or elaborate props are needed as she spills out Marni’s story of anonymity, determination and struggle, in word and song with accents and styles that change as easily as you would your underwear.
But more than her songs are her stories. She spits out tales of Marilyn Monroe, Deborah Kerr, Audrey Hepburn and Natalie Wood, who she met and studied. mimicking their gestures and mannerisms, to ultimately pull the wool over our eyes.
Eliza must have done the same because her performance is addictive and authentic. She delivers the tightly refined script with ease, personality and humour. It’s enough to make us smile, even chuckle, but not detract from the bigger picture: that Hollywood is full of ghost singers – even today – and each and every one of them deserves to be given a voice.
In this show, Marni Nixon has certainly been given one.
Sydney Arts Guide
THE VOICE BEHIND THE STARS : AN ENGROSSING, BITTERSWEET TALE
Eliza Jackson knew she was going to be a star even before entering her teens. Her show THE VOICE BEHIND THE STARS proves her prediction. This show is the story of Marni Nixon (1930-2016) who was the ‘ghost singer’ behind many leading Hollywood actresses in over 50 movies. Eliza holds the stage in this solo performance with her voice, humour and authentic story-telling.
Eliza focuses on the music and the story by using a simple set on a blackened stage. The set has a microphone and music stand representing the recording studio, an armchair, table, tea set and record player for home and a centre screen projecting images of the range of actresses whose careers Marni Nixon enhanced by giving them her voice.
Marni Nixon, endowed with perfect pitch, began singing professionally in her teens, reinvesting all her earnings in the early years in singing lessons. Whilst she did have some work doing her own recordings and some opera, it is her ‘ghost singing’ for which she is most noted. She has been described as ‘the best film diva you (almost) never saw’.
Many of her contracts forced her to remain silent about her being the real singer behind stars such as Debbie Reynolds and Natalie Wood. We gain insights into the talent and personalities of these and other leading actresses such as Audrey Hepburn, Deborah Kerr and Marilyn Monroe as Eliza interweaves storytelling with songs from My Fair Lady, The King & I and West Side Story to name just a few movies.
It was not until she was well into her twenties that Marni began her fight for and succeeded in getting the rights for all ‘ghost singers’ to be credited in the movie and to receive reasonable payment. Marni eventually did make it onto the big screen in acting and singing roles, including being cast in The Sound of Music as one of the singing nuns. Marni comforted herself with the success of three Oscar-winning films and the success of the leading ladies. She was also proud of the success of her three children: Andrew, an award-winning composer, Melanie and actress and Martha a psychologist.
Eliza Jackson writer, creator and performer of this show is an Australian-born, London-based actress and singer. NIDA trained, she is the Creative Director of UK-based theatrical production company Lambert Jackson.
Whilst Eliza too has been said to have perfect pitch, there are several humorous moments when she plays with various accents, personalities and class exaggerations which allow her to lower her musical guard. The story has enough of these moments and characters for the chronology to never become tedious. It is an absorbing tale. The overall message is bitter-sweet: “I’d let all these actresses dub their body to my voice”. The performance is one to relish.
During a successful sell-out run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2018, the Edinburgh Guide described Eliza’s performance as ‘magnetic and magical’. THE VOICE BEHIND THE STARS is next playing at the Fringe World Festival in Perth daily from 10th to 13th February, 2019
Divine Diva delights with solo performance about Marni Nixon
How do you create a great musical? Is it a cast of thousands, stunning costumes and a full orchestra?
Not in the case of this simply stunning show.
Take just three props, a mic stand, a small chair and table, and one big screen. Simplicity itself. But then you add the voice of one woman, Eliza Jackson. Eliza creates total magic with pitch-perfect range as she weaves solo, the story of the “ghost singer” behind so many of our famous actors. And it is a breathtaking hour with standing ovations at the end.
I have to admit, all my life, I knew Audrey Hepburn was a lovely singer, but not very powerful. My belief was that Julie Andrews was the ghost voice in, My Fair Lady. This wonderful musical debunks all those misconceptions and reveals the story of Marni Nixon. Marni Nixon is the ghost singer behind the voices of stars in over 50 Hollywood films including Audrey Hepburn, Deborah Carr, Natalie Wood and Marilyn Monroe.
This was a deep Hollywood secret and Marni was required to sign confidentiality agreements to never admit she was that fabulous voice we all fell in love from some of Hollywood’s best musicals.
Eliza in this beautifully acted, executed and sung show, takes you back in time and brings alive the magic Hollywood weaves. See this show to find out how the truth came out about her ghost singing. It is startling and moving.
Marni eventually did make it onto the big screen in acting and singing roles, including being cast in The Sound of Music as one of the singing nuns.
The singer making this story come to life, with her astonishing and breathtaking voice, is Eliza Jackson. Eliza is the divine diva behind the voice, behind the ghost, behind the stars. We are very lucky to be able to claim her as an Australian with this type of talent. She was born in Sydney, Australia but lives aboard in London now. She trained at the prestigious National Institute of Dramatic Arts (Australia).
She has extensive training in both acting and singing and in this performance it shines. She is in demand for performances all over London, but we are lucky she is in the country for just a few shows.
One 4 Review
Eliza Jackson tells the story of Marni Dixon who was the ghost singer behind the voices of some of the most famous Hollywood stars such as Audrey Hepburn, Deborah Kerr, Natalie Wood and Marilyn Monroe.
Due to her contract, very few people knew that Marni Dixon dubbed the songs that these famous actresses sang in musicals such as My Fair Lady, The King and I, West Side Story and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. It wasn’t until Deborah Kerr let the cat out the bag at the premier of the King and I that it became public. Because of her incredible dubbing work Times magazine called her “The Ghostess with the Mostess”.
Through dialogue and song, Eliza Jackson delivers a fascinating insight into Marni’s life and career. On one side of the stage there is a microphone, headphones and a music stand, which depicts the recording studio where Marni performs the songs. On the other side there is an armchair where she sits and gossips about her life and the actresses she has worked with. Eliza perfectly captures Marni’s Californian accent as she smoothly switches from talking to singing. Her voice is pitch perfect throughout each rendition of the songs.
I was absolutely engrossed in this story, which was all down to Eliza’s fabulous performance and excellent production of this show. Fans of musicals and those who love autobiographical stories will love this.
In July 2016, the unsung heroine of Musical Movies, Marni Nixon passed away in New York City aged 86. Classically trained, she had been a talented singer from childhood and through the 1950s and 1960s was cast in numerous unseen, uncredited roles as the dubbed-over voice for many Hollywood actresses.
Like an overture, we first hear a medley of familiar songs from hit shows, before Marni Nixon steps on stage to join in the romantic lyrics from “I Could have Danced all Night.” As the music fades, she adds with a sarcastic tone and curt smile, “Audrey could not sing to save herself!”
This sparkling, one-woman play is a most revealing portrait of “The Ghostess with the Mostest,” as Marni was eventually named in the media, when the truth of her secret work was revealed. The stage is set with a large vintage microphone, music stand, a red velvet armchair, table with telephone and teapot, beside a rack of gramophone records.
Dressed in a black and white silk blouse, string of pearls and black cigarette-slim trousers, Eliza Jackson with her neat cropped hair bears an uncanny resemblance to Julie Andrews – in turn, Marni was also mistaken for Julie. We first hear about Marni’s childhood when she and two older sisters were pushed onto the vaudeville stage and then films by their mother, which earned a good income, believing Marni could be a great opera singer.
Selecting the LPs one by one, we hear how Marni sang the high notes for Marilyn Monroe in “Gentleman prefer Blondes” illustrating how she copied the sweet, sultry voice for “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”. While working as a messenger girl for MGM, she is in the best place to find out about forthcoming musicals and auditions for “The King and I.” Her perfect English accent in “Getting to Know You” gets her the job as the ghost voice for Deborah Kerr.
It is quite a shocking to learn that Marni was not credited in the movie or soundtrack album which sold hundreds of thousands of copies for which she was paid $420. Ms. Kerr was nominated for an Academy Award despite the fact that she had not sung one note. Marni was sworn to secrecy through her contract but unwittingly, Deborah thanked her ghost singer in an interview and her cover was blown. It was only then that she could start to fight for the right for royalties and credit as the true Voice Behind the Stars, and finally shake off her cloak of anonymity to star in her own concerts.
The narrative follows her musical journey “backstage” as it were, impersonating the voices and dramatic style for many star names including Natalie Wood as Maria in “West Side Story” and Audrey Hepburn as Eliza in “My Fair Lady”. It seems so curious today that a director would cast an actress who cannot sing in a musical!
There are some marvellous behind the scenes anecdotes and Hollywood gossip along the way, such as how Natalie Wood was a monster, and that the “beautiful, graceful” Audrey struggled with her Cockney and upper class accents although “she kept getting voice lessons!”
Eliza Jackson has a powerful vocal range from classical soprano, musical theatre to jazz numbers. She is a simply stunning singer and actress, and the audience at the Assembly Rooms Drawing Room Theatre was mesmerised from start to finish by her magnetic, magical performance. Her glamorous, sharply astute and witty impersonation – herself ironically “ghosting” the exceptional musical talent of Marni Nixon on stage – just proves what a true star Ms Jackson is.
This is the world premiere of Eliza’s show which deserves international success … perhaps following in Marni’s footsteps to Carnegie Hall, New York.
The Voice Behind The Stars, a one-woman show at Assembly Rooms, is presented by Australian actress and singer, Eliza Jackson. Eliza, debuting at The Fringe, chose Edinburgh as the place for the world premiere of her show. It tells the story of Marni Nixon – the most famous ghost singer in the history of the cinema.
Marni Nixon was the singing voice for the biggest movie stars such as Audrey Hepburn, Deborah Kerr, Natalie Wood or Marilyn Monroe, in the most iconic pictures, including West Side Story, My Fair Lady and The King and I. Hidden in their shadow, throughout her life, she had to fight for credits and royalties.
Within one hour of the show, Eliza Jackson impersonates Marni and tells her story with perfectly and charmingly captured Californian accent. The show is as remarkable as its heroine. Jackson as Marni smoothly switches from talking to singing, delighting the audience with her fantastic soprano and charisma, emphasized by the costume which perfectly depicts fashion of 50s.
In one moment, she shares the juicy details from the film industry, while elegantly sipping tea and browsing through the vinyls, hidden in a warm red light, snuggled down into a vintage armchair. Then, she performs classic Hollywood songs in a small recording studio bathed in blue, on the other side of the stage, revealing what the dubbing job consists in. The stage is small and its design is spare; however every single element has significance in depicting the spirit of Marni’s times and the character herself.
The Voice Behind The Stars is not only a story about Marni Dixon, though. It is not even a story about fame or cinema, although its history is casually incorporated into the spectacle, mostly thanks to the screen at the back of the stage which helps the audience to catch all the references. However, first of all, it a story but about passion, creativity and dreams. Thanks to Jackson’s marvellous acting job, it is both funny and entertaining and on the other hand, moving and deeply emotional.
The Voice Behind The Stars is a show for not only musicals or classic movies fans but also, for anyone who would want to be transferred for one hour to a beautiful yet still realistic world of dreams. The one and only opportunity to actually see the voice is awaiting at Assembly Rooms.
A brief review of a brief show. This is an affirmation for those in the audience old enough to remember when motion pictures like The Sound of Music (1965) were first released, confirmation for those who had read up about Marni Nixon (1930-2016) (Eliza Jackson) or were otherwise already acquainted with her work, and a wonderful introduction to her life and career for those, like me, who only really knew sketchy details. The Voice Behind The Stars explains why I only knew sketchy details – so much of her work was uncredited.
It helps that Jackson has a versatile and wonderful singing voice, as the audience is treated to live performances of many songs where Nixon’s voice was used, dubbed over another actress. There is even a microphone and headphones on stage, as though that section of the performance space was a recording studio. The sheet music was probably there ‘just in case’ more than anything else, but nonetheless added to the authenticity of the re-enacted recordings. Also on stage is a collection of vinyl records, which Jackson periodically looks through in order to select the next piece of music to be discussed.
Nixon has certainly left a legacy: a ground-breaking deal struck with Leonard Bernstein, composer of West Side Story (1961), eventually led to singers whose voices are used in motion pictures to be included in the list of credits, and to be remunerated for their services accordingly. I can understand dubbing being used for the purposes of translating a film into different languages, so films can be appreciated in non-English speaking countries, but I would have thought in this day and age, where authenticity continues to be all the rage, filmmakers would just cast people who can sing well in the first place. The talent is certainly out there.
Nope. Rebecca Ferguson plays the opera singer Jenny Lind in The Greatest Showman (2017), but it is the voice of singer Loren Allred that can be heard on ‘Never Enough’, a tune which Jackson closes the show with. Jackson has a warm and engaging manner, and the show provides plenty of detail about what went on during the filming of the motion pictures Nixon was involved with. Natalie Wood was apparently “a piece of work”. Make of that what you will. As for The Voice Behind The Stars itself, it’s a well-researched and well-performed production.
This one-woman show tells the story of the most prolific ghost singer of all time, Marni Nixon: the best film diva you (almost) never saw. Dubbing for over 50 Hollywood films, she was the singing voice for stars such as Audrey Hepburn, Deborah Kerr, Natalie Wood and Marilyn Monroe. Featuring much-loved tunes from West Side Story, My Fair Lady and The King and I, this show is not to be missed.
In a classic story of old Hollywood, Marni Nixon had to sign her life away. She was forbidden from telling anyone who or what films she sang on. Luckily for her, Deborah Kerr (The King & I, An Affair to Remember), who she dubbed for extensively, ‘accidentally’ spilled the beans about Marni. ‘It happened last night!’, ‘Deborah tells a secret’ – these headlines lead to interviews with all the papers and even Time Magazine. But despite all of this notoriety, her work as the ‘ghostess with the mostess(t)’ is still mostly unknown.
Marni spent her whole dubbing career struggling for credit and royalties. She was paid only $420 for her work on The King and I, which is still one of the top-selling albums of all time. After a long battle, she was gifted a quarter of a percent by Leonard Bernstein himself for her work as Maria’s singing voice on West Side Story.
Because of this, all ghost singers to this day must be credited and awarded royalty points accordingly. Marni went on to star in Broadway shows, sing for Liberace, tour the world and host an Emmy award-winning kids show, but she only ever had one onscreen credit – The Sound of Music, where she plays Sister Sophia. Marni Nixon is played by Australian actress/singer Eliza Jackson.
Broadway World UK
BWW chats to Eliza Jackson about bringing The Voice Behind The Stars to the 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Tell us a bit about The Voice Behind The Stars
The Voice Behind the Stars is the untold story of Marni Nixon, the most prolific ghost singer of all time. She dubbed for stars like Audrey Hepburn, Natalie Wood and Marilyn Monroe and sang for over 50 blockbuster films, yet she is almost entirely unknown.
The King and I, My Fair Lady and West Side Story are just a few of her credits for which she was never given recognition. If it wasn’t for a slip from Deborah Kerr in an interview, we may never have heard her name at all.
This one-woman show tells her story – the scandal, the secrets and the songs. It has something for everyone, and exposes the truth behind some of the world’s most loved movie musicals.
Why is it so important that Marni Nixon’s story is told?
Marni Nixon was immensely successful and yet even though you’d unknowingly recognise her voice, most people don’t know anything about this incredible woman. Her story is one to be celebrated.
She was a strong, determined and talented woman who challenged the norm. It’s because of her that ghost singers are now credited and paid accordingly. Being the year of the woman, it feels like the perfect time to be telling her story.
Where might we have seen you perform before?
I’ve been lucky enough to sing all around London in some of the most beautiful and exclusive venues as part of my jazz duo Jackson and George. Soho House, Browns Hotel, Century Club, The Other Palace and The Underbelly Festival to name a few… This will be my first one-woman show and the first show that I have both written and starred in!
Who would you recommend comes to see The Voice Behind the Stars?
This show really does have something for everyone, but especially if you love those old-school movie musicals: West Side Story, The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady. You’ll love hearing all the background stories and gossip.
Are there plans for the show beyond the Fringe?
We have some really exciting plans for the future of this show. A London run, a potential UK tour and we’re currently in discussions with some of the Australian festivals – as an Aussie myself I think it’s so important to take this show home for a while!
The Voice Behind the Stars, 14-26 August, 2pm (1 hr)