Tuesday, February 7, 2012

TV Review: "Smash"

Having spent the greater part of my life in the theatre, I was excited to see "Smash," which tells the story of the creation of a Broadway musical. In this case, it's a musical biography of Marilyn Monroe.

Julia Houston ("Will and Grace" alum Debra Messing) and Tom Levitt (Christian Borle of Broadway's Legally Blonde) are musical writing partners whose latest Broadway show "Heaven on Earth," has just opened in London's West End. Tom's best friend Ivy (Megan Hilty) is in the show's Broadway chorus, but longs for a major role. Meanwhile, Midwestern transplant Karen ("American Idol" winner runner-up Katherine McPhee) is working as a waitress while auditioning for her big break. 

When Tom's new assistant, Ellis (adorable newcomer Jaime Cepero) offhandedly suggests that Marilyn might make a good subject for a musical, Julia and Tom's wheels start turning and they begin to write, despite the protestations of Julia's husband Frank (Tony-nominee for ShrekBrian d'Arcy James). Frank is upset because Julia has promised to take time off so the couple can devote time to adopting a baby. 

Meanwhile, Broadway producer Eileen Rand (the incomparable Anjelica Huston) is in the midst of a divorce, which will dash all hopes of her proposed revival of My Fair Lady. When Ellis leaks a video of a demo recording session of the show's first song online, it goes viral and soon Eileen is courting Julia and Tom to finish the show, even going so far as to arrange an "audition' for arrogant director/choreographer (and Tom's arch-nemesis) Derek Wills (Jack Davenport of Pirates of the Caribbean and "Swingtown").

All of this happens, mind you, in the pilot's first 30 minutes.

I recently read an interview with executive producer Steven Spielberg who said he wanted to do this show because he only understood the creative process of film and wanted to explore film's progenitor, theatre; something about which he knew next to nothing. 

Created by Pulitzer-nominated playwright Theresa Rebeck (Seminar) and Scott Burkhardt, "Smash" might best be described as "Glee" with an attitude. And I mean that in the most flattering way possible. With original music by Marc Shaiman (Hairspray; The Wedding Planner; Southpark: Bigger, Longer and Uncut) and more than a few amazing performances (McPhee positively shines here), "Smash" gets it. And by "it," I mean the creative process that goes into the mounting of a show. 

As someone who has been an auditioner, a director and the creator of a musical (or three), I can attest that the show understands everything that goes into the mounting of a musical or play, albeit at a rather remarkably accelerated pace. "Smash" provides its audience with the viewpoints of the writers; director; producer and hopeful actors, all while exploiting New York City's best locations. The cast; the music; the production values and the writing are all top-notch here and I honestly can't wait to see the next episode.

If you love the theatre, dream the dream and live the life, "Smash" is the show for you. If you're just a fan of the Broadway experience (and "just" is hardly the right word for die-hard theatre aficionados), "Smash" is the show for you. And if you've always wondered what goes on in the creative process, then "Smash" is the show you.  I only hope it can maintain the excellent standard it has set for itself in the pilot episode. **** (Four Out of Four Stars). "Smash" airs on NBC. Check your local listings for dates and times.

More, anon.


Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

I may have to check this show out. It sounds like something I could have fun watching.

Stephen said...

I was pretty happy with the first episode...