Mon­roe mu­si­cal gets its big shot

‘Bomb­shell,’ the made-up mu­si­cal that drove TV se­ries, hits Broad­way for a night.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Pa­trick Pacheco cal­en­dar@la­times.com

The 2012-13 TV se­ries “Smash’s” fic­tional project hits Broad­way — for one night.

NEW YORK — Ever since the TV se­ries “Smash” spawned a nar­row but ra­bid fan base be­fore go­ing off the air in 2013, the ques­tion has lin­gered: Would “Bomb­shell,” the fic­tional Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe mu­si­cal that drove the se­ries, ever be de­vel­oped for a real Broad­way stage?

“Bomb­shell” did ar­rive on Broad­way this week to a rap­tur­ous re­cep­tion at the 1,700-seat Min­skoff Theatre — but only as a one-night char­ity event in which mem­bers of the orig­i­nal cast re­united to sing and dance their way through the song­book cre­ated by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman. Tick­ets to the Mon­day night show had sold out in about an hour in April af­ter a Kick­starter cam­paign raised $300,000-plus to de­fer devel­op­ment ex­penses.

“This is the largest theater Kick­starter in his­tory,” said Chris­tian Borle, fresh from his Tony win Sun­day for his fea­tured role in “Some­thing Rot­ten!” He was joined by his “Smash” costars De­bra Mess­ing, Katharine McPhee, Megan Hilty, Will Chase, Brian d’Arcy James and Jeremy Jor­dan and a 30-piece orches­tra.

The re­sponse from the young au­di­ence was elec­tric from the mo­ment McPhee and Hilty sang the first num­ber, “Let Me Be Your Star.” On TV the two played ac­tors com­pet­ing to play Mon­roe, and on­stage they dom­i­nated the con­cert in songs that tog­gled be­tween the erotic al­lure of fame and its bruis­ing costs.

Mon­roe’s pres­ence was pal­pa­ble in videos and haunt­ing pho­to­graphs, which were in­ter­sti­tially pre­sented be­tween the nearly two-dozen num­bers. Cast mem­bers also read ex­cerpts from Mon­roe’s writ­ings as well as ob­ser­va­tions of her from Billy Wilder, Arthur Miller and Lee Stras­berg.

News­reel footage of Mon­roe and Joe DiMag­gio in­tro­duced one of the show’s high­lights, “The Na­tional Pas­time,” in which Hilty ca­vorted with male dancers in an ex­u­ber­antly raunchy num­ber choreographed by Joshua Ber­gasse that hinted at the overt sex­u­al­ity that might have been in­jected into “Smash” had it aired on ca­ble rather than net­work tele­vi­sion.

Although the cre­ative team and pro­duc­ers had de­murred from any talk about “Bomb­shell” be­ing de­vel­oped as a Broad­way mu­si­cal, the evening’s suc­cess ap­peared to make them more san­guine about that prospect.

“I would cer­tainly love to think that th­ese songs and those per­for­mances could con­tinue to live,” Shaiman said. “Any­one in that theater would be per­plexed as to why some­thing like that couldn’t con­tinue.”

Shaiman and Wittman main­tained that their songs were tai­lored to the Broad­way stage, per­haps, as the lat­ter put it, to the “detri­ment” of the tele­vi­sion show. A dif­fer­ent pop style, along the lines of “Amer­i­can Idol,” could have drawn a big­ger au­di­ence.

“We tried to stay so pure to what we thought it should be,” Wittman said. “The sub­ject was Broad­way and that was to us a clas­sic sound.”

To Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, the ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers of the se­ries who also pro­duced the con­cert, those songs are the bones of any fu­ture Broad­way mu­si­cal.

“What we start with is one of the great­est scores that’s been writ­ten for the theater in I don’t know how many decades,” Meron said. “So it’s a pretty aus­pi­cious be­gin­ning to com­bine that score with a story about a beloved movie icon. But that’s eas­ier said than done.”

In­deed, de­vel­op­ing any Broad­way mu­si­cal is a steep climb that be­comes more pre­cip­i­tous when deal­ing with a leg­end as emo­tion­ally com­pli­cated, well known and tragic as Mon­roe. The evening in­cluded Miller’s ob­ser­va­tion that his wife was “a poet on a street cor­ner try­ing to re­cite to a crowd pulling at her clothes.”

Not­ing that sev­eral mu­si­cal clas­sics such as “Cabaret” and “Sweeney Todd” end un­hap­pily, Zadan said, “I think it re­ally needs a con­cep­tual point of view and some­body who can write this who has a vi­sion how to make it so it’s not a bi­og­ra­phy.”

Zadan cau­tioned that they might be get­ting ahead of them­selves even though talk of turn­ing “Bomb­shell” into a Broad­way mu­si­cal was part of the dis­cus­sions from the early days of the se­ries.

“We al­ways thought that it might be or we wanted it to be or we hoped it to be, but there was never any move­ment what­so­ever about mak­ing it into a Broad­way show,” he said, adding that what was es­sen­tial was first to get through the se­ries, then the ben­e­fit con­cert and now the af­ter­math. “And we don’t quite know what’s go­ing to hap­pen in the next cou­ple of months or year. We just don’t know.”

Those de­ci­sions rest to a large de­gree, said Zadan, on the se­ries’ “god­fa­thers”: Steven Spiel­berg, who served as one of the ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers, and Bob Green­blatt, the NBC En­ter­tain­ment chair­man who cham­pi­oned the pro­gram and who is a pro- ducer of cur­rent Broad­way mu­si­cals “Some­thing Rot­ten!” and “A Gen­tle­man’s Guide to Love and Mur­der.”

Theresa Re­beck, who cre­ated the se­ries but left af­ter the first of its two sea­sons un­der con­tentious cir­cum­stances, may also have some say in the mat­ter. The play­wright, who said she was sorry to miss the Mon­day event be­cause of a pre­vi­ous en­gage­ment, gave credit to her col­lab­o­ra­tors for the con­cert.

“I’m very proud that they did it and I re­ally be­lieve in what they’re do­ing,” Re­beck said, ex­press­ing de­light at the buzz sur­round­ing a po­ten­tial mu­si­cal. “I’d be happy for it to move for­ward. I re­ally be­lieve in the work I’ve done on it. I put my heart and soul into ‘Smash.’”

That same pas­sion and com­mit­ment was ev­i­dent in the “Bomb­shell” con­cert. The cre­ative team and per­form­ers vol­un­teered their time so that most of the $800,000 in pro­ceeds could go into the cof­fers of the Ac­tors Fund, which sup­ports so­cial ser­vices for peo­ple in en­ter­tain­ment.

Whether the ova­tions from the au­di­ence can be trans­formed into a long run as a Broad­way mu­si­cal is any­body’s guess. For now, the am­bi­tions for the next stage of “Bomb­shell” are mod­est. Wittman said that the man­age­ment of the Ac­tors Fund have ex­pressed a wish for a West Coast en­core.

“I would love to do this at the Hol­ly­wood Bowl,” Wittman said. “That would def­i­nitely be ap­pro­pri­ate. Mar­i­lyn comes home.”

Jay Brady

CHRIS­TIAN BORLE and De­bra Mess­ing were among the “Smash” costars who re­united to sing and dance for the one-night char­ity event at Min­skoff Theatre.

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