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InDepth InterView: Joshua Bergasse On BOMBSHELL/SMASH Reunion Concert, Plus ON THE TOWN, GIGI & More

One of the most popular stories of the year so far, the unexpected announcement of a special one night only charity concert performance of a fan favorite musical-within-the-series from NBC's musical series SMASH, BOMBSHELL, to benefit the Actors Fund, is already a huge hit here on BroadwayWorld, and, now we bring you an exclusive chat with an elemental figure in the creation of the project, choreographer and co-director Joshua Bergasse, all about the hotly anticipated evening. As part of our conversation, Bergasse offers up a slew of new details on what plans are currently in place for the unprecedented SMASH reunion as well as share first reactions to the wildly successful Kickstarter campaign that has already racked up more than $314,000 in donations in less than two weeks, having begun with a goal of $50,000 when the event was first announced. Additionally, Bergasse parses the finer points of the BOMBSHELL score and outlines what fans can expect from the songstack on the evening as well as preliminary staging and presentational plans and also what the momentum engendered by BOMBSHELL could lead to in the future, near and far - a HIT LIST concert or perhaps a night featuring the other musicals-within-the-series. Plus, Bergasse also comments on his contributions to two new productions of major mainstage musicals this season byway of ON THE TOWN and GIGI as well as looks ahead to the La Jolla Playhouse premiere of the new musical by the FROZEN team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, UP HERE, while also glancing back at his Broadway debut in THE LIFE. All of that and much, much more!

More information on The Actors Fund is available at the official site here. More information on the BOMBSHELL Kickstarter campaign is available at the official site here.

Also, check out my exclusive InDepth InterView UpDates from earlier this week with The Actors Fund president Joe Benincasa, available here, and producer Tim Pinckney, available here, as well as songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, available here, for even more about BOMBSHELL.

The Twentieth Century FOX Mambo

PC: What was the first you heard about the BOMBSHELL Actors Fund concert Kickstarter?

JB: You know, I think it was sometime late last year that Neil [Meron] called me and said that they were thinking about doing this and wanted to check my availability to see if I could join them on it. Sometime in the Fall, I want to say.

PC: What was your immediate reaction to the Kickstarter success and raising more than $200,000 in a few days?

JB: I was shocked! I mean, my last experience with SMASH was that we were cancelled! [Laughs.]

PC: Not a great note to end on, needless to say.

JB: Yeah, I felt like, "Aww, nobody is watching it" and "Nobody likes us!" So, I was so shocked and so happy to find out that we have so many fans out there still - it was really exciting when that happened. I am really excited now to give these fans a really good show.

PC: Have you contributed to the Kickstarter yourself yet, if only to secure a ticket?

JB: [Laughs.] Actually, I think that by the time I found out - we are in tech for GIGI right now - they had already surpassed the goal! I mean, ever since it went up, people have been e-mailing me asking me for tickets and I am like, "I don't even know if I have a ticket!"

PC: Your co-director Scott Wittman and I just discussed some of the songs being treated as full-out production numbers, with "Let's Be Bad" standing tall. Are you already envisioning it?

JB: [Laughs.] Yeah, I gotta tell you, that's the one I'm most excited about putting back together, too. You know, I want to keep it true to the original version that we did on the show as much as possible, which shouldn't be too hard because when I staged that number it was staged for a proscenium - I didn't necessarily stage it for television; I did it as if we were doing it on a Broadway stage and then we shot that.

PC: All of the exchanges and dialogue were pre-written and recorded, yes?

JB: Yes - all of it. That was all there. When we rehearsed the number, we rehearsed it all the way through and all of that stuff was in there.

PC: Do you have some ideas of how to adapt it for the stage even further? There were some striking camera effects in how it was done on the series itself, of course.

JB: I think what I have to do is stage it like I did before and then just make sure that it reads the same onstage - you know, make sure that the magic we captured with a camera reads from the audience.

PC: No small feat!

JB: Definitely not. You know what's great, though, is that we have the same lighting designer who did the series - Donald Holder - working on the concert. So, he's going to be able to really focus things in that for us, I think.

PC: The whole team from SMASH is doing BOMBSHELL, more or less.

JB: Everybody jumped at this - yeah. It's so exciting.

PC: Did you instantly say yes, as well?

JB: Instantly! Instantly.

PC: You really wanted to be involved.

JB: Oh, are you kidding?! I turned down other shows for this!

PC: You've had a busy season - ON THE TOWN is one of the best reviewed shows of the year, to boot. It's exceptional.

JB: Oh, thank you for saying that - yes, we are so proud of ON THE TOWN.

PC: And GIGI just started previews this week, as well!

JB: Yes! GIGI started previews this week, too.

PC: How have rehearsals been going with Vanessa Hudgens?

JB: Oh, Vanessa is so great - I love working with her. She is such a surprise - such a wonderful talent and so lovely to work with and everyone is just going to love her in the show; she's perfect. Perfect.

PC: Is it a similar process working with Vanessa as it was working with Katharine McPhee on SMASH given that both are predominantly known for their singing more than their dancing?

JB: Yeah, it is. It's funny you should compare them, because that's true - and, with both of them they have surprised me so much with their dancing ability. I mean, I wasn't sure when they were cast - when Kat was cast in SMASH and Vanessa was cast in GIGI - I wasn't sure what to expect, but they both really surprised me. I couldn't be happier with both of them.

PC: "The Twentieth Century FOX Mambo" certainly proved it for Kat!

JB: And we are definitely doing that one in the concert!

PC: That sequence blew people away when it aired in establishing Kat as a formidable potential Marilyn - and a very effective dancer, as well. Was that a fulfilling process for you as a choreographer?

JB: That was actually the first number that we did together - that Kat and I did together - and that was the first time that I realized what a good dancer she was. Obviously, she hadn't been dancing that much before then and she was a little out of practice, so that one took her a second to learn, but, then, after that, her learning curve increased exponentially and she became a really fast learner. I remember that she was very nervous at the beginning, and, then, by the time we got to Season Two and we were staging "Public Relations", I asked her to jump off this gigantic ladder and land in these guys' arms...

PC: Quite a dicey move!

JB: I wouldn't have done it! [Big Laugh.] But, she did it without any hesitation whatsoever - she didn't even question it! She was so brave and so fearless and just jumped in.

PC: Literally.

JB: Yes, literally! [Laughs.]

PC: What a transformation.

JB: It really was - especially from the start of Season One to when we were working on Season Two. I honestly don't know how I earned that trust from her! [Laughs.]

PC: Speaking of tricky staging, the HIT LIST song "I Heard Your Voice In A Dream" has some of the most innovative choreography of anything seen on the series.

JB: Oh, yeah - "I Heard Your Voice In A Dream"; I loved that number! That was so fun to do.

PC: Jeremy Jordan in our extensive SMASH interview (available here) said that number was not easy to pull off.

JB: That took a lot of rehearsal, yeah - a lot! It came off really well, though, I thought.

PC: Another unique choreographic flourish was Krysta Rodriguez's "Reach For Me", with lots of aerial work. Was that all your doing or did you bring in assistance for the aerial parts of the staging?

JB: That was all new for me. So, what we did was we brought in AntiGravity who did most of that and I just helped guide them through the process of doing it for the TV show and what we needed it to be like, but they actually did most of that choreography.

PC: Incidentally, the Minskoff is a significantly bigger stage than the Lyric and many other Broadway theaters - are you anticipating staging challenges at that venue?

JB: Yes, we are at The Minskoff for BOMBSHELL and we are going to have the orchestra onstage, too. So, all the big numbers are going to have to happen in front of the orchestra.

PC: Or in the audience! Particularly considering your environmental staging of many sequences in ON THE TOWN, is that a possibility?

JB: That's true! That's true. That's a good idea!

PC: Shades of your staging of "Lonely Town" perhaps.

JB: Oh, that would be great! I hadn't actually thought of that until now, but now that you bring it up - that could be really fun. The thing is, we don't get to the theater until the actual date, so it could be tricky - as you may know, a lot of the problems with integrating things into the audience are sound issues and lighting issues, so if we can solve those things pretty quickly then we can do that.

PC: It will be a heady experience to get it all up all in one day.

JB: Oh, yeah - it's going to be a challenge.

PC: Of course, some songs will not make the cut for the concert - "Our Little Secret" seems unlikely according to Scott. What about "Dig Deep"? Have you discussed that?

JB: We did. We have gone through about four different versions of the song list so far, so there are a couple of versions where "Dig Deep" isn't on it and a couple of versions where it is on it. Right now, we are still assessing who can participate and perform at the concert first - you know, whose schedule will actually allow them to do it. So, we have some confirmations and some people are still up in the air, so once we figure out the actual cast then I think we will know a little more about what the song list can be and who can perform what song and things like that.

PC: Has Marc Kudisch been approached to reprise Darryl Zanuck? Obviously, he's in another show right now.

JB: To be honest, I don't know. But, as you know, Christian Borle does "Don't Say Yes Until I Finish Talking" - the big Zanuck number - really well, too. So, we might have him do that - we just don't know yet. Right now, it's kind of like a big puzzle trying to figure everything out - I mean, we don't want this to be a four-hour concert, either! [Laughs.]

PC: And if Bernadette Peters joins, "Hang The Moon" is a built-in 11 o'clock number sure to stop the show, as well.

JB: Right - right. Exactly.

PC: Is "The National Pastime" another sequence you are hoping to be one of the big production numbers?

JB: Yeah. We are looking at four or five right now that are going to be numbers we are fully staging - "Let's Be Bad" is one of those and hopefully "The National Pastime", too. Basically, what we are planning to do is to do it in the order that the songs would be done in the show - in BOMBSHELL.

PC: Similar to the running order of the official cast recording.

JB: That's right - yes.

PC: Do you think "Cut, Print... Moving On" should be the Act One finale or the Act Two opener? It could go either way.

JB: Yeah, I know. We keep going back and forth on that. For me, I think it could be a great Act Two opener, especially since it opened Season Two of the series. But, it would be a great closer for Act One, too! That's one that I am really torn about.

PC: "On Lexington & 52nd Street" stands out stylistically from the rest of the songs as well as covers some iconic ground at the same time. Are you planning any elaborate staging for that?

JB: For "On Lexington & 52nd Street" I think that I am leaning actually on just letting Will [Chase] sing that, more or less. He just sings it so well! And, there are no background vocals and he doesn't really need anybody to play off of, either. So, those are just my thoughts on it right now - Will just kills that song all on his own, you know?

PC: Scott said we should anticipate multiple Marilyns, so I would assume we'll see several in the title song, "Smash!", yes?

JB: We're trying to figure that out right now - that number could go a few different ways, of course, as you just said. It's a big point of discussion right now, how to do that - you know, do we have different Marilyns? Do we have one Marilyn and dancing Marilyns? We are trying to find the best way to use that number and use the people we have for the concert best. That's a really good question, though - I just don't have the answer yet. It's all in the ether right now.

PC: What are your personal thoughts on potentially filming the BOMBSHELL concert and having it available to view?

JB: Well, my thoughts on that are I want as many people to see it as possible. So, it's a little bittersweet that it seems like it is sold-out already before tickets have even gone on sale or anything. For me, the more people that see it, the happier that makes me. We are trying to make this a really special night.

PC: Are you open to allowing people in to see the dress rehearsal?

JB: Well, the truth about that is - and we were talking this the other day; I said, "Are you sure we are even going to have a dress rehearsal?!" - we are getting into the theater that day. So, how do we actually know we are going to get through tech-ing the show in time to have a dress rehearsal?

PC: And THE LION KING isn't the easiest production to load in or out either, I would assume.

JB: That's true, too. So, as for the dress rehearsal, I don't know - plus, the performers will just be getting there that day, a lot of them. Are they going to be ready to do an invited dress before the performance? I mean, ideally, that would be awesome, but realistically I don't know if it is possible.

PC: Would you want to be involved in a further iteration of BOMBSHELL if it is developed for licensing after this?

JB: Oh, wouldn't that be sweet if BOMBSHELL was able to be done in schools?! [Big Laugh.]

PC: The younger generation seems to particularly love Shaiman/Wittman musicals, after all!

JB: I mean, can you imagine a high school trying to do "Let's Be Bad"?! Seriously, though, I don't know if there is anything there or if it will ever happen, but I do love that people are still taking an interest in SMASH and BOMBSHELL - definitely.

PC: Would you be open to doing a follow-up concert showcasing the other musicals seen on SMASH such as HIT LIST, LIAISONS! and HEAVEN ON EARTH?

JB: Absolutely! Yes. That would be so hysterical. That would be really fun - we could do stuff from the Jennifer Hudson musical, too, that was called BEAUTIFUL.

PC: Plus, there are some songs that didn't make the cut for SMASH, as well. Did you attend 54 BELOW SINGS HIT LIST?

JB: Yes, I was there - it was fantastic.

PC: You would want to direct a HIT LIST concert follow-up to BOMBSHELL, then?

JB: Oh, yeah! There are so many great songs in HIT LIST.

PC: What was the first number you ever staged on SMASH?

JB: "The National Pastime".

PC: What was the last song from BOMBSHELL you staged?

JB: THE LAST ONE I staged from SMASH was "Big Finish", but that wasn't from BOMBSHELL - that was for the finale.

PC: Have you considered closing the concert with that anyway?

JB: Spoiler alert! We have discussed using that in our show. I mean, it's such a great song! But, I don't know - I don't know.

PC: Do you have particular ideas for how to split up certain numbers to use both Megan and Kat?

JB: Oh, yeah - we have lots of ideas about that. Some can be split up nice and evenly - some songs they will be singing together and some will be solos.

PC: Is there a particular song in the score for BOMBSHELL that you prefer above all the others?

JB: Well, "Let's Be Bad" is just the answer for everything - my favorite song, my favorite thing to stage; everything.

PC: Marc and Scott also said that it was a very special moment for them to see such an elaborate production number done on TV on that scale and at length like that was. Was it a similarly exhilarating experience for you?

JB: Yes, it was. I mean, I couldn't believe that NBC let us do it - and, do it for five minutes and have it be such a big thing. You know, they were such sticklers about keeping the numbers short on the series, so when they let us do that we were all so excited - and I think it came across really well. Everybody involved with SMASH had a real moment when that was on TV.

PC: ON THE TOWN, GIGI, BOMBSHELL - what's next after that?

JB: After we do the BOMBSHELL concert, I am going out of town to La Jolla to develop this new show called UP HERE which was written by Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez and directed by Alex Timbers - I am choreographing. So, we are doing our out of town tryout with that in La Jolla. That's what next.

PC: Lastly, I just wondered if you had any memories of THE LIFE?

JB: Oh, THE LIFE was my first Broadway show! [Sighs.] I was like 26 or 27. I had so much fun doing that show. I have to say, my favorite part was getting to listen to Lillias White sing every night.

PC: Will you be attending the 54 Below salute to THE LIFE?

JB: No, I didn't even know about that until now! I have to look it up.

PC: This was spectacular today, Josh - all my best luck with BOMBSHELL and everything else.

JB: Thank you so much, Pat. This was so great - I really appreciate it; it means a lot. Bye.

Photo Credits: Walter McBride, NBC

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