What is it about being lectured at the end of a musical that brings an audience to its feet? The last-minute number, “Don’t Forget Me,” sung prettily by Katharine McPhee at the end of last night’s finale, goes down in history alongside preachy musical closing numbers like “Children Will Listen,” which drop everything at the close of their storyline to turn and give invocations and instructions to the audience. In the case of “Children Will Listen,” the ending note of the fairy-tale based, high-school-theater Sondheim favorite, “Into the Woods,” it’s all the more frustrating when the adults nod sagely, wipe tears from their eyes and leap to their feet, because it seems throughout the entirety of the show children weren’t listening. They were escaping towers and going to balls and climbing beanstalks, and if there’s one thing that’s more difficult than being lectured at at the end of a musical, it’s being lectured at for a reason that has to be interpreted to make sense. (I can’t wait for all the Sondheim fans to come debate me on this point. BRING IT. I love me some Sondheim but let’s not pretend closing numbers have ever been his strong point.) The broader point with the Into the Woods song is that children will NOT listen to you, but they will see and absorb everything, so WATCH WHAT YOU DO, YO. Only problem? Not really present as the point of the show as you watch it. Until the end! Then everyone gets their Big Sharp Point and gets to walk out saying what the show is about!
This is why it is semibrilliant for the halfassed and quickly written number to be a lecture song.
However, as lecture songs go, this is a very, very pretty one. I can’t say if the show supports it: we’ve still only seen perhaps ten percent of Bombshell. (Any bets on how long it takes to get to Broadway in real life? Two years, perhaps?) It also, despite some clunky lyrics (every time we sing Happy Birthday we should think of Marilyn Monroe? No thanks!), gave the ending of Bombshell a true hairlift moment: the starlet at her gold-spangled starletiest, dressed as she’d prefer to be remembered, beseeching the audience (as the real Marilyn did in her last interview, noted in the first episode of this show) to remember her well. As lecture songs go, this one is downright integrated. There was also the little riff of the music from “Let Me Be Your Star” at the last swell, one of those tried-and-true-because-it-works tricks that brings the music full circle; nicely done in the Wittman and Shaiman way. (Listen closely to the end of Hairspray and you’ll hear it, too: the strains of “Good Morning, Baltimore,” at the end of “You Can’t Stop the Beat.” They do it because it cues us to a proper ending. They do it because it gets results. It says hey, you were standing up when you walked in here. Stand up now before you leave.)
There you have it. A show that is really about the show, even if it took a detour through libido land first. It’s about the ineffable something that makes a person a star: that made Marilyn a star and that is going to make Karen one. That is going to bring people to her door so they can tear pieces from her. Just like Marilyn.
Ivy just doesn’t have it. She’s been holding out hope that she’d fall into it, or it would mature into her. It hasn’t. For however much she tries and however perfectly she can imitate it, she doesn’t have it. And that’s the point, isn’t it? For every Karen there are a hundred Ivys. Showbusiness wouldn’t be heartbreaking – or glorious – without them. This show is better for understanding that.
And that’s where we leave our fair cast until we pick up in September. Is Bombshell a hit? Will they make it down the I-95 to New York? Will Ellis die a painful death? If he doesn’t, can he please? Is Derek going to get his Bleached Blonde Bombshell trifecta?
Next year, the show will have a new showrunner, former Gossip Girl showrunner Joshua Safran. I’ll do a once-only FYI here: Mr. S is an old friend of mine, from my sixteen-years-old-and-starstruck-about-everything days. (Now I’m exactly twice as old and exactly half as starstruck.) I’ll just say this appointment made me more excited for the development of the show than anything that has heretofore happened on it. It’s gonna be great. It’s gonna be swell.
We’ll have more opinion pieces on SMASH and where you think it should go, over the next week. If you have made it to the end here, I congratulate you, and I look forward to duking it out in the comments over whether Ellis should die via wheat thresher or televised brawl. (Wheat thresher any day, for me. For you for me for you for me. Dawg. </RandyJackson>)