Report from Boston: ‘Bombshell’ — they might want to change more than the title of this DOA Marilyn musical

Unknown Karen Cartwright steps in for Hollywood star Rebecca Duvall in “Bombshell.”
I took a day trip to Boston yesterday to catch the second preview of the new musical about Marilyn Monroe, Bombshell. Perhaps you’ve heard about it? It’s the much-anticipated bio-musical that the bland Hollywood star Rebecca Duvall was set to make her Bway debut in, but then she had a “backstage incident” resulting in an abrupt exit after the first preview causing the show to halt production for two whole days.

You can’t make this sh*t up.

Since I can smell a bomb(shell) a mile away, I decided to catch this turkey before it flew the coop.

Oh, boy. It’s worse than we feared.

Marilyn is an icon. We all get this. She lit up the screen, and, from what we’re told, when she entered a room, she was impossible to ignore. She radiated. She was both untouchable and incredibly human. An enigma. A star.

Obviously, filling Monroe’s pumps is a tall task for any actress — especially when the highly publicized star of a million dollar production has very publicly jumped ship. I’d love to report that the young woman taking over for Duvall is a star in the making, yet understudy Karen Cartwright (who, inexplicably, has zero professional stage credits to speak of) radiates about as much star power as a pocket flashlight. Sure, she’s a lovely girl and hits all the marks and notes, which is commendable, but she has, what I call, “dead eyes.” There’s no “there” there. Unfortunately, this is not something that can be fixed from a rehearsal room. You either got it, or you don’t, and Cartwright don’t got it.

I mean, during the classic scene when Monroe’s skirt billows up around her (which is recreated here in strangely staged production number), I was half expecting Cartwright to be blown off the stage — she’s that inconsequential.

So, that’s a major problem when your title star isn’t up to the challenge. Yet, that’s the least of their worries. The show, frankly, is a mess, and director Derek Wills, who’s known for his highly conceptual takes on classic material, seems like he’s pulling out all the stops to fix it, including a trite opening featuring “shadow” Marilyns who call out belittling phrases to the star just before she launches into her first, of many, powerballads of the evening, “Let Me Be Your Star.”

Julia Houston and Tom Levitt, who had a mild success with the overrated Heaven on Earth last season, have penned a score that sounds like it was written with a gun to their heads. The pastiche-heavy tunes by Levitt (there’s mambo, Whitney Houston-like ballads, swing and country to name a few) fail to capture any sense of cohesion. And Houston’s pedestrian lyrics include rhymes like sights/lights and tears/fears. I won’t even discuss the tacked on epilogue (yet another powerballad) that obviously was written minutes before curtain time as it wasn’t listed in the program (but, amazingly, was fully orchestrated!)

There are some bright moments. Michael Swift, though horribly miscast, elevates each scene he’s in as the quietly volatile Joe DiMaggio (Monroe and DiMaggio had a tumultuous and short-lived relationship — one of many for Monroe). And the young ensemble, acting as a greek chorus of sorts, moves things along with energy and verve, though obviously with little direction, as Wills has most likely been consumed with star issues.

Maybe Rebecca Duvall is smarter than we thought?

We’ll see if this makes it to Broadway.

2 thoughts on “Report from Boston: ‘Bombshell’ — they might want to change more than the title of this DOA Marilyn musical

  1. Ms. Cartwright soared in Bombshell! She IS Marilyn Monroe, except for the dead part. Not disclosing your Team Ivy membership should get you kicked out of the Outer Critics Circle!

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