March 12, 2013

All of last season, the NBC television series Smash chronicled the creation of a new Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. Each episode gave fans of show music a tantalizing taste of what the score would be like with snippets of songs being auditioned, rehearsed, choreographed, performed or eliminated as the show-within-the-show got closer and closer to its opening night.

Each time we heard all or part of a new number, those of us who collect cast albums of musicals were tempted to fantasize about the Original Cast Album that might result from all the work we were watching. Now, Columbia Records makes our fantasies reality. The album of the score of the musical, which ended up being titled Bombshell, can be ordered as a CD, or downloaded as a digital file.

No matter what you thought about the first season of Smash – or even if you bothered to watch it – if you like the sound of Broadway musicals like Hairspray or Catch Me If You Can, you will like this album.

That’s not surprising given that, while the fictitious team of “Julia Houston” played by Debra Messing and “Tom Levitt” played by Christian Borle write this score in the make-believe world of the television series, the actual score was written by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman.

Guess what they wrote before. Hairspray and Catch Me If You Can.  They also dabbled in the delightful froth of the fake bio musical of superstardom which included the name of its star in its title: Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me. The Bombshell score bears comparison to any (or, more precisely, all) of these as it features sparkling lyrics set to rhythmically inventive, melodically ingratiating tunes.

The score for Bombshell isn’t concerned only with the story of Marilyn Monroe. Because the songs had to make a contribution to the television drama as it progressed as well as to the musical at its center, there are double meanings to many of the songs.

For example, we get a soaring song that is almost a textbook example of what the instructors at musical theater institutes and workshops call “the what I want song” in “Let Me Be Your Star.” Yes, it is ostensibly about the desires of Norma Jean before she changed her name to Marilyn Monroe. But a major plot line of the television show is the competition between “Ivy Lynn” played by Megan Hilty and “Karen Cartwright” played by Katherine McPhee. Both want to play Marilyn in Bombshell. Hence it makes sense that the recording of “Let Me Be Your Star” features both of them pleading for stardom.

Since Marilyn Monroe married baseball great Joe DiMaggio, we get Megan Hilty as Marilyn learning about “The National Pastime.” Because “Joltin’ Joe” famously objected violently to her skirt raising scene in The Seven Year Itch which was filmed on Lexington Avenue at 52nd Street in New York, we have Will Chase as the actor playing DiMaggio singing a song with lines like “See the girl who’s become a joke / See the man whose heart she broke / Right here on Lexington and 52nd Street.”

After DiMaggio, Monroe had another unsuccessful marriage, this one to Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Arthur Miller. When that marriage failed, Miller was quoted as saying “Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets” so Shaiman and Wittman penned “The Right Regrets.”

Not all the cast of the show make appearances on the disc. Unfortunately, Brian D’Arcy James’ role as the husband of the lyricist in Smash doesn’t give him a song in Bombshell. Guest star Norbert Leo Butz did have a song to sing, but it was from a different Broadway show so he doesn’t show up on the Bombshell CD either.

The disc includes some numbers by special guest stars. Julian Ovenden joins in as JFK on “Our Little Secret.” Nick Jonas chimes in on “I Never Met A Wolf Who Didn’t Love to Howl,” although he doesn’t get a solo spot. He’s one of the chorus boys howling in the background.

There are two numbers for Bernadette Peters, who plays the mother of one of the contenders for the role of Marilyn Monroe. She sings “Hang The Moon” and “At Your Feet” which is a superb example of how Wittman and Shaiman come up with hooks for their songs that are lyrically intriguing as well as musically satisfying. Here Marilyn’s “Mommy Dearest-ish” mom sends her young daughter off to Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood with a nickel for the matinee assuring her that the hand and footprints of the stars will keep her company while Mommy is off living her own life. This gives them the chance to write a five line stanza like this:

    Some folks wish on stars above
    They want money, fame and love
    We like our stars more concrete
    So the stars that we’re wishin’ on are
    At your feet.

All of the songs get full Broadway pit orchestra support featuring charts by the likes of Doug Besterman, Larry Blank, Jeff Atmajian and even Jonathan Tunick who handles Bernadette Peters’ two numbers.

The booklet includes a short note signed by Shaiman and Wittman explaining the concept of the dual service nature of the score. “We constantly tried to write, whenever possible, lyrics that applied to two stories at once.” 

The synopsis that is included, however, covers only the story of the musical Bombshell. A summary of the plotlines of Smash would have helped those whose evenings are more often spent in a theater than in front of a television set.

Also of Interest:

Megan Hilty, who plays the role of “Ivy Lynn” in Smash and is heard on half of the 22 tracks on the Bombshell album, has just had her first solo album released. The ten track album is titled It Happens All The Time (ASIN: B00AL6SM2G.) It doesn’t have the same big Broadway sound found on Bombshell. Instead, it has a contemporary pop sound which fits with the songs of Aimee Mann, Damien Rice, Wayne Hector and Glen Ballard. Hilty made her Broadway debut in Wicked in the role of Glinda that was originated by Kristin Chenoweth. Later she originated the role of Doralee in the Dolly Parton musical 9 to 5. This new album is on Sony Masterworks’ adult contemporary label, Portrait.

The New Marilyn Musical from Smash

Running time 66 minutes over 22 tracks
Packaged with notes, synopsis, lyrics and nine photos
Columbia Records

The New Marilyn Monroe Musical from Smash