Guest contributor Scott Redman has musical theater flashbacks as he reviews the CD release of “Bombshell,” the show within the show from NBC’s Smash. He also gives us a sneak peek at Megan Hilty’s new release, “It Happens All the Time.”
It was always a thrill visiting my local music store to find the latest original Broadway cast recording and see the show artwork peering through an unblemished jewel case. I couldn’t wait to rush home, rip off the cellophane wrapper, pop the CD in my jam box and push play. My young heart and ears were eager to hear something that would delight and inspire my adolescent soul. The possibilities were endless. I instructed myself with the same directions before hitting play on the first track of “Bombshell”, the musical featured in the NBC television drama, Smash.
“Bombshell” is a bio-tuner based on the life of Marilyn Monroe focusing on her climb to stardom and a few detours including her relationship with famed Yankees slugger Joe DiMaggio. Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman, the respective composer and lyricist of Hairspray and Catch Me If You Can, have crafted 22 songs for this mock musical. The show opens with the promising “Let Me Be You Star” – an uptempo want song, performed with youthful energy from young Norma Jeane (a role shared by Megan Hilty and Katharine McPhee) pushing herself into the spotlight.
Real life Broadway leading lady, Bernadette Peters, plays Norma Jeane’s mother — giving the young hopeful support to follow her dreams in “At Your Feet,” which sounds reminiscent of something Mama Rose would sing in Gypsy. “The 20th Century Fox Mambo” brightly whisks Norma Jeane through Hollywood sound stages using dance metaphors to characterize each studio. After Marilyn meets Joe Dimaggio, played by Will Chase, they daydream about their lives without the fame and fortune in “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” romanticizing an ordinary yet fulfilled life. Daydreaming doesn’t last long and Dimaggio finds himself “On Lexington & 52nd Street” belting his woes to midtown New York.
Marilyn keeps moving with “Cut, Print… Moving On,” a tune that revisits musical themes from the opening number. Soon after Marilyn is soaking up the attention with the jazz inspired “Public Relations.” The most heart touching song from the track list is “Second Hand White Baby Grand” – we hear Marilyn reflect on the piano that sparked her dream to perform. This tune has the makings to become a standard in the American songbook. However the light shines through this song, it diminishes with the last tracks on the album.
The big band motifs begin to feel repetitive and the score blurs together. Bernadette Peters has a second song, “Hang The Moon”, a quiet lullaby that stands out from the brassy orchestrations. The show’s finale, “Don’t Forget Me,” ends with a plea from Marilyn as she asks the world for compassion and a chance to become a true star.
The idea of writing of full length musical and having it spliced and diced for two seasons of a television series is no easy task. The center of most successful musicals pivots on a solid book that focuses the scenes into scenarios where characters must sing their emotions to fully express themselves. In this case the book is non-existent, the medium of TV has distorted the musical.
There isn’t much that ties the songs together or supports the rising and falling action of the story. Whitman and Shaiman are talented writers — the word play is smart and the tunes are easy on the ears. If this were a real show, many of the songs (though well crafted) would have been cut to better align the story and central action.
Broadway shows typically record a cast album shortly after opening night, once the material is “frozen” and changes from previews have been integrated into the production. The recording day of a cast album is usually a celebratory event putting the finished seal on a musical. The cast of “Bombshell” lacks the experience of performing the show for a live audience eight times a week and creating a “groove” within the arc of the show.
Ironically, there have been other Marilyn themed musicals. Marilyn: An American Fable was an infamous flop on the rialto in 1983 and petered out after 17 performances. The show went through a rigorous rehearsal process and reportedly cut 10 musical numbers and snipped 45 minutes of dialogue. Sadly, I never found the cast album in my local music store because the show was never recorded. Cut, Print…Moving on! Perhaps this fictional Marilyn may have better luck.
Star of NBC’s Smash, Megan Hilty, released her first solo album this week. It is a diversion from her Broadway beginnings and the song choices reflect an attempt to bridge into the contemporary music world. The 10-track album draws inspiration from an array of artists including Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood. Hilty’s voice is lush, strong and often commands attention.
The song selections are fine but don’t showcase the passion Hilty brings to a stage role. It’s understandable for a young artist to branch out into other venues and explore new song styles but processing a pristine voice through a recording studio “pop” filter just comes out sounding like something is missing. I’m hoping this isn’t the last album she records and visits her best friend, Broadway, soon.