After a long night of Tony Awards parties lasting through the wee hours of the morning, the Broadway community was back at it Monday night. The crowd was made up of the theatre's most familiar faces as well as die-hard "Smash" fans anxiously awaiting an Ivy-Karen faceoff for the coveted role of Marilyn Monroe.
The stage was splashed in all white — the color of Marilyn's signature dress blowing in the air — including the orchestra and a (second-hand) baby grand piano (an homage to the popular "Smash" song performed by Megan Hilty on television).
Debra Messing and Christian Borle took the stage to introduce the musical and were greeted with rapturous applause and a few standing fans within the house. Their characters, Julia Houston and Tom Levitt, respectively, wrote the Marilyn-inspired piece at the center of "Smash."
After Messing congratulated her co-star on winning his second Tony Award less than 24 hours earlier, she joked, "Maybe NBC should have used a Kickstarter instead of sponsors!" The concert raised over $800,000 for The Actors Fund and was started by virtual donations. "I've got to say — when we walked out for the first time, the love that came at us was so palpable and so forceful, it was overwhelming," she added at the after party. "The whole evening was just pure joy. We got to revisit something that was incredibly special to all of us, and we got to do it our way, which is really just focusing on Broadway. There's something cathartic about being able to come and do it on a Broadway stage for people who really love the show."
Audiences knew they were in for something special as Katharine McPhee walked out to the first few notes of the show's anthem, "Let Me Be Your Star." She was soon joined by Hilty for the Broadway belt-off seen round the world when the show debuted in February 2012.
They were each dressed in floor-length gowns that sparkled, shined and were reminiscent of the show's promotional art (and the evening's Playbill, which featured Marilyn soaking in the spotlight).
"My favorite part was watching Kat and Megan together again and realizing that they loved each other so much," said a busy Borle, who admitted he was running on "dreamlike fumes" from the last few days. "That could go either way — two competitive [actresses, but] they always loved each other and supported each other. To see them back together again, loving and supporting each other after they've gone on to do all this other amazing stuff, was so great."
It certainly was a battle of the belters at Bombshell. The evening mainly focused on the material written for the fictional "Smash" musical; interspersed were tidbits about Monroe's life, read by Borle and Messing (with help from McPhee, Hilty and Borle), that served as the show's "book" and strung the songs together. A projection screen descended from above during the "book" segments, and footage from Monroe's life played in the background.
McPhee and Hilty split Marilyn's material — as they did on television when they went head to head for the headlining role. In the first act, McPhee took "The 20th Century Fox Mambo" (with fast-paced, airborne Joshua Bergasse choreography, to boot) and "Never Give All the Heart" (in which she was joined by Marc Shaiman at the piano).
Hilty took showstoppers such as "The National Pastime," the baseball-inspired number set during Monroe's relationship with Joe DiMaggio (in which Hilty got a bit friendly with her bad-ass baseball boys and their big bats) and "They Just Keep Moving the Line," which closed the first act (and brought down the house).
Hilty was also joined by Will Chase (who played Michael Swift on "Smash") to duet on "History is Made at Night" and a beautiful rendition of "Mr. & Mrs. Smith." Additionally, Chase delivered a powerful "On Lexington & 52nd Street," the Joe DiMaggio ballad about the end of their relationship.
Shaking things up in the first act were Ann Harada (as she usually does) with her rendition of "I Never Met a Wolf Who Didn't Love to Howl" — because why shouldn't the show's stage manager take a stab at a Marilyn number? — and Borle with his performance of "Don't Say Yes Until I Finish Talking," which included eight shirtless chorus boys and endless choreography.
The second act kicked off with Jeremy Jordan's performance of "Cut, Print… Moving On" because, although the number is intended for Monroe, who could resist Jordan on a show-stopping, second-act opener?
"When the audience is cheering that loudly, it doesn't feel real," he said. "It kind of just drowns out everything else, so you're like, 'Where am I? This must be a taped recording of everyone cheering.' I've never heard anything like that."
Wesley Taylor was the show's next guest star. He joined McPhee (in place of Borle) on "Public Relations," and — considering having less than 24 hours in New York City, since he's starring as Cabaret's Emcee in D.C. — nailed a song-and-dance number that included getting tossed around in the air by a few Broadway boys.
"I am in New York for 12 hours," Taylor told Playbill.com. "I have just finished a five-show weekend. The shoes that I'm wearing right now, that I wore in the concert, I stole from the number 'Two Ladies'… And, tomorrow night I'm doing a show, and five of my friends are traveling from out of town to come see it and then staying with me tomorrow night, so that's why I'm not drinking right now!"
The males dominated the show's second half. Leslie Odom, Jr., on break from Hamilton as the show takes a hiatus from performances to move from downtown to midtown, brought down the house with his smooth and sultry performance of "(Let's Start) Tomorrow Tonight," and Something Rotten! Tony nominee Brian d'Arcy James served up "The Right Regrets."
Hilty was also back for more in the show's second half, singing a simple and stunning rendition of "Second Hand White Baby Grand" and a sassy "Let's Be Bad." She also joined Donna McKechnie, who played the role Bernadette Peters created on screen, for "Hang the Moon." (McKechnie also performed "On Your Feet" in the show's first half.) McPhee and Hilty closed out the evening with "Don't Forget Me," before returning for an encore of "Big Finish."
"I've had so many days since the show has finished, and I've been at home and really nostalgic about my experience during those two years, and I go look at old videos of performances and all the amazing things we did on the show," McPhee explained. "It was really a thrill. For me this was such a celebration, to be able to do something to give back to the Broadway community. I'm like a newbie. I haven't done anything for real in the Broadway community. It was fun for me to get my feet wet and celebrate what an amazing show we got to do."
Although the evening was more than successful, there was no news to report on a Broadway future for Bombshell. But, everyone is waiting to see it happen.
Even Messing would be game to join in. "You want me to read poetry on Broadway?" she asked, having played the show's writer. "I never say never! That's my new saying."
As for her "Smash" companion, Borle added, "I bet you it's going to be soon. That went well, right?"
(Playbill.com features manager Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)
View the exclusive highlights video below: