Smash

As a fan of music theatre, television and Marilyn Monroe, I really should love Smash.

And I’m happy to say I do.

In truth Smash owes a lot to Glee (and before the the musical revival via Moulin Rouge, Chicago and their peers). Before then, nobody would come near the musical on the small screen -all dreading another Viva Laughlin. Jibes about the dreaded Cop Rock were everywhere in those reviews.

Smash comes from the Spielberg camp, although he is neither creator nor director. But it immediately sends a signal to the audience that we should expect a certain level of quality. Doubtless, he has also managed to attract quality creatives to the project.

The series is created by Broadway playwright Theresa Rebeck (Mauritius, Omnium Gatherum, The Understudy) who has also written for L.A. Law, Third Watch Law and Order: Criminal Intent and NYPD Blue.

Smash revolves around the creation and staging of a Broadway musical, based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. As in real life the Hollywood legend has been the subject of failed musicals before (1983’s Marilyn: An American Fable perhaps?).

Composer Julia Houston (Debra Messing) is frustrated by poorly-written musicals, but is on the hunt for her next subject. Her collaborator Tom Levitt (Christian Borle) has a cute new assistant Jaime (Ellis Tancharoe) who piques their interest with his memories of Monroe.

Despite the pitfalls of previous attempts, Houston can’t stop thinking about the idea of a new Monroe musical. Long sessions at the laptop watching Monroe movies fascinate her.

Fearsome Producer Eileen Rand (Anjelica Huston) is in the midst of an ugly divorce but takes interest in the Marilyn project. The three make early steps with workshops involving stage director Derek Wills (Jack Davenport), which allows for some very sharp musical performances into the narrative.

Most of the performances involve two females, newcomer Karen (Katharine McPhee) who is auditioning for the Marilyn role and Ivy (Megan Hilty) a seasoned performer who is hired for the workshops, but keen for the role. This cleverly adds an element of competition and jeopardy into Smash.

Smash is more adult than the Gen-Y Glee, wrapping the show in the financial risk and paranoia that accompanies the creation of a new Broadway work. As a result this ramps up the emotions of the central characters.

But it’s impossible to ignore the original songs by Broadway composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Hairspray). They are totally authentic to the genre. These have been inserted into the ‘show-within-the-show’ while conventional covers such as Christina Aguilera’s Beautiful serve as audition pieces. Songs are also confined to the music theatre performers, as opposed to having Messing or Huston suddenly break into song.

The performances by McPhee and Hilty are solid stuff, employing dance and theatrics to create showbiz moments within the wider drama.

Smash begins with a great start and has been lovingly made, without resorting to cheap shots. How well a broad audience connects with the inner-workings of a musical remains to be seen, but with enough musical numbers it should strike the right balance. Can’t wait for Opening Night.

Smash premieres 7:30pm Tuesday February 21 on W.

8 Comments:

  1. Wayne, of course I’ve seen it. Why would I comment without having seen it?

    The original music hasn’t really been relevant to the plot, it’s been relevant to the musical. And the musical (nor Marilyn’s life) doesn’t mirror the plot yet, so there’s no “bonus” there.

    Glee hired actual pop song writers to produce its original music. Just because you hire people with experience doesn’t mean they will deliver for you without fail. And sheesh, it’s not like Hairspray is the unbridled epitome of music, film or musical theatre.

    Glee achieved something akin to television magic in the pilot and in its first batch of episodes. That cemented it so that it can survive, despite now being the worst written show on air. Smash has a hard job ahead of it to keep enough of its post-Super Bowl lead-out audience and continue to exist.

  2. @ Steve Sydney Debra Messing is actually pretty good in this, it’s not meant as a comedic role and so far I’ve found her to be very down to earth and well cast in the role.

    @ Davis Have you actually watched the show at all? It’s about Broadway so of course there has to be music. The songs are written by the team, behind Hairspray and, unlike Glee, relevant to the storylines and characters so I’m not sure what your problem is.

  3. I was pleasantly surprised by this too. I liked it. It’s not something i’ll go out my way to watch. But the pilot was very good. Great story, great acting, and the original songs work well.

  4. Smash, believe it or not, actually needs less music. Like to the point of none or virtually none.

    Why?
    (1) it’s a drama, and the music is almost by definition quite light, so it feels pretty out of place and
    (2) a reasonable amount of the music they do perform is necessarily tied to the music this new “Marilyn” musical they’re producing; which means they’re performing original show tunes. Glee’s experience with writing music should tell you immediately this is a Bad idea. Worse because they’re show tunes, erghh.

  5. I’m looking forward to Smash, which is obviously inspired by Glee’s success. While I quite enjoy many of Glee’s songs, I’m tired of the silly storylines, weak characters and threadbare plotting.

    I’m confident that Smash will be far more enjoyable and adult in its content.

  6. I was really looking forward to this especially with Anjelica Huston, whom I’ve loved since Addams Family and The Witches.

    But then when I found out Debra Messing was involved I started to have my doubts. Hopefully her character won’t try to be comedic (nothing can out do Will and Grace) and will be solely dramatic. I remember cringing whilst watching The Starter Wife thinking.. So is she supposed to be funny or not?

  7. Smash is good and I was pleasantly surprised, it’s not just a show about musically but more about the drama behind the scene.

    Just a shame FTA didn’t pick this one up so it could have a wider audience but at least on W it will be in HD and have no ads!

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