Fade in on a girl…and approximately 1,400 of her most excited fans who showed up at the Minskoff Theatre on Broadway (home of The Lion King) Monday night (June 8) for a special one night only concert presentation of Bombshell, the show-within-a-show from the first season of NBC’s canceled musical drama Smash.
The performance was a benefit concert for The Actors Fund, and to get tickets fans had to participate in a Kickstarter that, star Christian Borle noted in his opening remarks, “is the largest theater Kickstarter in history,” raising hundreds of thousands of dollars. “Maybe if NBC had used Kickstarter instead of sponsors, we’d still be on the air,” Debra Messing joked.
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On Smash, Bombshell was simply musical numbers, so there was a question of how exactly this musical/concert would look as an actual stage show. The cast played it straight throughout the night, rarely breaking the fourth wall. Instead, the Marilyn Monroe story was presented as much as possible like a real musical, with actors (primarily Messing) reading short excerpts from biographical texts written by Marilyn and her friends in between about 20 numbers — accompanied by a 29-piece on-stage orchestra — that fans know and love. For many of the songs, there was elaborate choreography as well, courtesy of about a dozen ensemble dancers and choreographer Josh Bergasse.
“I hope the fans who are there at the show are just completely ravenous and crazy for the music,” star Katharine McPhee told Billboard two weeks ago. “I just want people to go crazy and really relish the music for the night because it’s going to be so fun for all of us.”
Mission accomplished: Like many a nostalgia act/reunion tour, the crowd was over-the-top thrilled for nearly every moment of the two-hour show, giving loud cheers to everything from Megan Hilty‘s pipes to random small moments like when scheming “Ellis” (Jaime Cepero) briefly came onstage to give Messing and Borle their scripts.
After a quick introduction from Borle and Messing joking that they wrote this show, Bombshell opened with the two leading ladies — Hilty and McPhee — singing a powerhouse version of “Let Me Be Your Star” together. Like on Smash, the two women switched off playing Marilyn throughout the night, which allowed McPhee to shine in big dance numbers like “The 20th Century Fox Mambo,” and Hilty’s truly spectacular pipes to take on showstopper “Just Keep Moving The Line,” among others, before the two both sang the big closer, “Don’t Forget Me.”
To give the duo a break — as well as allow fans to see all their favorite characters — a handful of numbers originally sung by McPhee or Hilty were given to other Smash stars, including Jeremy Jordan putting his own spin on “Cut, Print…Moving On,” Ann Harada singing “I Never Met A Wolf Who Didn’t Love to Howl” (complete with excellent audience howling participation), and Brian d’Arcy James — a stellar Broadway vet who egregiously basically never sang on the show — debuting a gorgeous “The Right Regrets.”
In a show full of crowd-pleasers, the high point may have been Hilty’s high-energy, much-bawdier-than-on-television version of “The National Pastime,” full of innuendo and some graphic posing with a few baseball bats — met with delighted audience screams, naturally. Another highlight was Borle’s number, “Don’t Say Yes Until I Finish Talking,” which was a great showcase not only for the charismatic Borle, but the excellent ensemble.
Along with a curtain call and grateful remarks from songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the evening ended the only way it could have, with Hilty and McPhee giving the crowd a final moment to celebrate by belting “Big Finish” — a Smash tune that wasn’t a part of Bombshell — and, just like the song says, leaving the elated crowd wanting more.