The words we've all been breathlessly waiting to hear - "You're going on as Marilyn tonight," - were finally uttered by the director of the show-within-the-show, Derek (Jack Davenport), on SMASH's "Bombshell" season finale last night: Karen Cartwright (Katharine McPhee) nabbed the coveted role. Despite seemingly all of the bets being placed early in the season against Karen by viewers and critics alike insofar as her likelihood of donning the peroxide wig and beautymark - she seemed a Norma Jean, for sure, but rarely an expected choice for Marilyn; certainly no match in the classic idea of the screen icon made flesh, blood, bone and belt as far as the vivacious and curvaceous Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty) was concerned. While many were quick in giving Ivy Lynn the upper hand - or upper skirt, as the case may be - it was evident from the first moment of the series that Karen, the underdog, is who we were largely meant to be rooting for above all others; the naïve Iowa girl singing "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" on a stage of glittering stars, so close and yet so far away from ascending. Ivy made a fast and furious impression soon thereafter with "The National Pastime" in SMASH's pilot, but Karen had already been quite clearly established as our most central protagonist - perhaps with Julia (Debra Messing) equally as prominent, all in all. As the fourteen subsequent episodes have progressed, SMASH has revealed itself to be a true ensemble piece with the emphasis on the collective journey of all of the characters and how that has had an effect on the burgeoning Broadway musical at the show's core, but Karen and Julia still have remained the two given the most screen-time and exposure. Megan Hilty has nonetheless emerged as a force to be reckoned with and her performance in the role is the finest of all on the series, outshining everyone else in her songs and scenes. She is a star on any stage - as her just-completed stint in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES at Encores! has also recently proven. The various highways, byways and alleyways by which we have journeyed on the road of SMASH from the very beginning to last night has unquestionably been leading to the BOMBSHELL first preview performances and the reveal of who would ultimately win the part of a lifetime in the show-within-the-show - and, on that count, the SMASH season finale bared all. And, as if all of that were not enough - cameos from Broadway heavyweights Bernadette Peters and Nick Jonas helped make it an extra-special season ender to remember, as well!
Don't Forget Me
By the mid-point of SMASH Season One it seemed utter, inescapable destiny that Ivy Lynn would remain as BOMBSHELL's star. She simply nailed the look, perceived sound and styling one would expect from Marilyn Monroe in a big, splashy Broadway biomusical depicting the highlights of the classic star's bumpy life. Yes, Ivy seemed ideal for the role in almost every way - even if Karen gave her a shockingly good run for her money in her "Twentieth Century Fox" dream sequence, especially as seen through Derek's daydreaming eyes (setting us up for the events of the finale) - as long as she didn't set herself up for self-destruction - which, by two-thirds of the way through S1, she nearly had succeeded in doing through her desperate pill-addiction. Ivy may have blown her job in the other Houston/Levitt musical, HEAVEN ON EARTH - in a spectacularly campy VALLEY OF THE DOLLS-esque meltdown moment it will be long before we forget - but she still seemed poised to stand on the fated subway grate and strike the famous pose - but it wasn't meant to be. As we have seen, it's a long road to a Broadway opening night - whether in the real world or in the soapy fantasy universe of SMASH - and there are a lot of twists and turns along the way. Heck, we haven't even gotten to the opening night of the out-of-town tryout in Boston yet, so everything is as up-in-the-air as ever.
Though the final five minutes of the season finale gave Karen a truly showstopping moment in the spine-tingling new swan song epilogue for the show-within-the-show - Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman's sensational season-capper and show-capper, "Don't Forget Me" - the case is far from closed in relation to who will open in the lead role when BOMBSHELL opens on Broadway... if it opens on Broadway. And that's one big if. Also, lest we forget, Karen is now the third iteration of Marilyn in BOMBSHELL thus far - coming on the strappy heels of Ivy's workshop portrayal and the sordid saga of screen star Rebecca Duvall (Uma Thurman) - so, come Season Two, it could very well spell the chance for another take on the role - or maybe a more shadow-selves-centric take, even. Anything is possible and SMASH has given us a plethora of fodder to chew on and conclusions to contemplate, as was clear to see in the many pleasing payoffs and elegant bookends shown on last night's season finale - plus all of the juicy new drama set up for next season; case in point: is Ivy going to OD?
As for all of the drama: Julia and Frank (Brian d'Arcy James) are back together, if tentatively, yet, was Julia's upset stomach more than merely jitters - especially given the foreboding pregnancy dialogue in the ensuing scene with Tom (Christian Borle)? Given her dalliance with Michael Swift (Will Chase) it could be anyone's baby, to boot. Speaking of Julia's songwriting partner, will Tom and BOMBSHELL chorus boy Sam (Leslie Odom, Jr.) find time for each other next season or will the developing and demanding show-within-the-show give their relationship similar trials as it has to Julia and her family? Speaking of divorces and dissolving relationships - what will the future bring for Karen and Dev (Raza Jaffrey) now that Ivy has revealed the reality of the boozy, lurid one night stand she shared with him; more to that point, where does that put Ivy and Derek's show-mance? Will Eileen (Anjelica Huston) continue her romance with shady bartender Nick (Thorsten Kaye) or will her ex-husband (Michael Cristofer) manage to win back her affections somehow, someway? Have we really, finally, thankfully seen the last of Ellis (Jaime Cepero) or will he really be back? Above all else, what reverberations will the casting of Karen in the lead role have on BOMBSHELL as it plays out in Boston, and, hopefully, moves towards its big Broadway debut in Season Two? So many questions - but more than enough wrapped-up storylines and punctuation points to satiate. It was a grand, glorious finale - penned by departing creator Theresa Rebeck - that captured the same excitement and excellence of the best moments of the pilot.
We have nine more months to discuss, debate and deconstruct what we have seen so far in the uneven, but unusually enjoyable first season of SMASH as we await the continuation of the story and the highs, lows, victories, plots - and popped pills - of SMASH's colorful and compelling coterie of characters we can expect next year as we continue to travel with them from the very inception of an idea for a musical to its eventual premiere on a Broadway stage. Though nine months may seem like an eternity to us now, just judging SMASH based on the merits of its first season, both Broadway babies and entertainment enthusiasts alike won't soon forget SMASH and its many, many joys - and all beautiful things it still has to give.