Why Katharine McPhee Wants 'Bombshell in Concert' to Be the Start of More 'Smash'

Katharine McPhee
Jay Brady Photography

Katharine McPhee in "Bombshell in Concert"

Even though it's been seven years since NBC's Smash left the airwaves, Katharine McPhee still finds herself being called Karen Cartwright on a near-daily basis. "I'm still blown away to this day when people come up to me and say 'I loved you in Smash!'" she tells Billboard. "It has been non-stop."

But this week, she is ready to relive her time on the show. On Wednesday (May 20), McPhee is joining the rest of the beloved show's cast for a special live stream of Bombshell in Concert, the June 8, 2015 one-night-only performance where the Smash stars performed through the songs of the Marilyn Monroe musical-within-a-show, Bombshell, at the Minskoff Theatre on Broadway. The event is set to support the Actors Fund, the national nonprofit supporting actors across America.

Along with giving fans a never-before-seen look at the famous live show, the stream will also feature Smash's cast reuniting to chat about filming the show, and life after Smash. Plus, McPhee says that she plans on crashing a few fans' Zoom watch parties. "It's just a fun way to kind of surprise the megafans out there," she says with a giggle.

Before the cast reunion, McPhee spoke with Billboard about the new live stream, why she thinks co-star Megan Hilty makes the better Marilyn Monroe, and her continued hopes for Smash season 3.

How have you been doing in quarantine? I've really enjoyed your live variety shows with your husband.

Those were great! They were definitely a way to make the days go by, but in some ways they made the days go by really slowly. If you know my husband (David Foster), he doesn't like to do anything half-assed. So, it was kind of intense and we had to take a break from it. I'm sure we'll come back in a little bit. But hopefully we'll be back in celebration of the quarantine being close to ending for most states — that is, if it's safe.

But you know, we're doing okay. Listen, it's all relative; I've had days where I really just feel like I'm going crazy, and other days where I feel really creative and really grateful for this time. But I'm always keeping in mind the sensitivity around this whole thing. You see people say "This is amazing, I'm the most stress free I've ever been, I get to sleep so much more!" You have to have the awareness that, there's people for whom this is the worst time in their lives. I've been trying to stay in the mind frame of holding a place for people in our country and around the world, that this has been a really horrible, dark time, and way worse than anything I could imagine for my own self.

We're here to talk about the exciting news that you are reuniting with the Smash cast for the stream of the Bombshell concert! How did this come about?

This was put into place about two weeks ago, when Bob Greenblatt, who runs HBO, Neil Meron, Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman came to the whole cast on an email and told us about it. They basically said, "We want to stream the concert, we want to get the cast back together to talk about it and see if we can raise money again!" It was a great idea, I don't believe there was one person who wasn't on board, so ... yeah, that's what's happening!

I will say this, we were talking about this with the cast the other day — nothing is going to capture the excitement and energy that was in that room that night. It wasn't shot to be a live concert, and the energy and excitement and the noise ... everything was palpable. Like, people were jumping out of their seats watching this show, so it was a really exciting thing to be a part of.

Thinking back to that 2015 concert, was there a number that really sticks out in your mind?

Oh, I will never forget the opening number with Megan and I ("Let Me Be Your Star"). It starts with me and Megan offstage singing, before we actually walked out. Watching the livestream, you probably won't be able to hear how crazy and loud the audience was, they were going so nuts. That was just a huge thrill for us to get that immediate response. It's "Let Me Be Your Star," everybody knows that song!

Next week will officially mark seven years since the show went off the air. How often do you still get approached about your role on Smash?

Oh my gosh, well I've perpetuated some of it, but on Twitter it has been non-stop. Especially, I find that if I go to New York City, I get it a lot more. I'm still blown away to this day when people come up to me and say "I loved you in Smash!" Or if I'm on an airplane, people will come up to me and tell me. I had this Australian mother and daughter come up to me once, and I swear they acted like I was Madonna or something! They were obsessed, they watched it all the way in Australia, so it was just really shocking to see. Even when I did Waitress in London, people would say, "Why do I recognize you?" And I knew it was Smash.

To this day, the question is always "Why did it end?" If I knew the answer to that, like the actual answer to that, then I would tell you! But it's a nice reminder of how much people love it.

I will say, your Twitter has been one of the most active meme accounts associated with the show — what got you started on joining in the fun with the memes

I will get stuff sent to me all of the time, so I decided to start sharing some of it. During my first stint on Broadway in Waitress two years ago, I just started playing around with Twitter and seeing these memes on Twitter, and retweeting them. Eventually, I started creating my own and doing live tweeting sessions and hashtags. I think all of that stuff invigorated the base, but it's come from me feeding off of these fans who are super creative.

Listen, I was on another TV series for four years called Scorpion, and there's plenty of fans who ask me questions about that show. That was on for four years, but it still doesn't live up to the energy and excitement that comes from the fans of Smash. I think it's the music that makes it so much more of a cult classic show.

Well, the show's success also really highlights the inherent fandom that comes with the Broadway community as well — when Broadway fans get attached to something, they don't tend to let go. It seems that you had a very similarly fever-pitch fan experience from when you were in Waitress

That was a show where it was a similar, but non-television version, where having each new Jenna come in was some iconic decision. I think think Sara Bareilles had a lot to do with that. Yeah, it is kind of the same thing ... is it a tangible thing, where you can really articulate why? I don't know that I can. But it's something that definitely had this similar thing.

There was one recent tweet where you said that after all these years, you are actually Team Ivy, not Karen, when it comes to who deserved the role of Marilyn on the show.

Honestly, people have asked me for years, "Is the show ever going to go to Broadway?" And I genuinely have no idea — I know they've played around with the idea of Bombshell going to Broadway, but I have no clue if it's actually happening. I've just kind of always thought it makes sense that, if it was ever going to go to Broadway, between the two of us, it would have always been Megan.

Listen, all you have to do is go on YouTube and watch the number "Let's Be Bad." I was sitting in the audience while they were filming that all day long ... if you thought it was amazing on camera and what was the edited final piece, you should have seen what it looked like live in-person, it was absolutely breathtaking, spectacular work at its finest. Megan is just unbelievable in that number, and not just Megan, but all of the dancers, and the choreography, and the lighting, it was incredible.

"Let's Be Bad" is one of the best Smash numbers of all time, but so is "20th Century Fox Mambo." You destroyed that number. 

[Laughs] Thank you! I remember when I watched it back when we were doing the show, I was so hard on myself watching it. I actually injured my foot in that number, I still to this day have an issue with my right foot from shooting that. I watched it back, and was like "Ugh, I just didn't dance it as well as I could've." You can go back and see that I actually don't have my balance at one point in the number, so I didn't like the way I looked in some of the dance moves. But now when I look back on it years later, I'm not as hard on myself, and I appreciate how well that number did turn out. 

What do you hope the legacy of Smash continues to accomplish?

Well, I think our ultimate dream is that the legacy has yet to be written, that maybe there is a chance that there is some avenue where the show gets to have a second life. Whether that be a mini series, or whatever — we're all game for anything, everyone loved the experience so much. Anything's possible, especially nowadays. After this whole quarantine thing is over, networks are going to need content and things like that, so ... I think that would be my ultimate goal [laughs].

I guess the bigger legacy is just that we've been able to raise so much money for the Actors' Fund. Like, if you're a member of the Broadway community, you know how important the Actors' Fund is to the Broadway community. We've raised so much money already, and we're hoping that we can raise even more money on Wednesday, and it all happens by people donating whatever they can, even a dollar! It's amazing what people can do by adding dollars here and there. That's what I think is going to be really amazing.