By Bruce Sylvester
Beauty, talent, ambition, search for love and respect, a sudden death that may have been suicide – the legend of Marilyn Monroe (1926-62) is the stuff that icons are made of. A musical set within another musical (the TV series “Smash”), the “Bombshell” soundtrack CD (Columbia) on one level views MM’s own life and on another level the lives of “Smash” characters.
Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s lyrics wonderfully penetrate her private hells (a crazy single mother, the Hollywood studio system) and possible heavens (her romance with John Kennedy) while working her own witticisms – back then known as Monroisms – into the lines. A bit of Mae West’s comedy too is put into Monroe’s mouth here. Her urge to rise above her era’s dumb-blonde stereotype was real.
Dashes of doowop and rockabilly give the arrangements a late ‘50s/early ‘60s flavor. The vocals are brassy (more Merman than Monroe), whereas the real MM exuded sweet innocence in her breathy, charming singing. Among the best songs: “At Your Feet” (her neglectful, star-struck mother’s notion of babysitting), “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” (dreams of quiet domestic bliss during her brief marriage to Joe Dimaggio), and “Dig Deep” (Lee Strasberg’s acting studio). Sarcastically written in a self-important, imperious studio executive’s voice, “Don’t Say Yes until I’m Finished Talking” savages the film industry mentality MM butted heads with. (“She needs to learn she’s only skin/The next girl’s waitin’ for a spin/I made a star of Rin Tin Tin/And paid him with a bone.”)
At times, to paraphrase Sir Elton John in the ‘70s, she was a candle in the wind. At other times, she reportedly had a grip of steel.