Following in the guise of the popular network musical series, NBC’s Smash sets out to appeal to a similar audience. The difference between Smash and the Glee phenomenon relates not only to the subject matter, but of the format itself. Within the opening minutes, Julia (Debra Messing) laments the jukebox nature of Broadway upon news of My Fair Lady revival. “Why doesn’t anyone do new musicals anymore?” she asks. This comment presages the creation of Marilyn: The Musical, a new original Broadway musical.
Contradictions do arise though with the notion of a new musical surrounding an international superstar who has been dead for half a century. While not the most original idea to grace the Great White Way, the music is certainly original and employs the talents of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (the musical team behind Hairspray The Musical).
Series creator Theresa Rebeck and executive producer Steven Spielberg sees that Smash is not just the story of an underdog getting a chance, but sheds some mainstream narrative light onto the creative process. It may not delve deep into the depths of creation, but the series follows the development in general rather than one side of the casting process.
Archetypes envelop the series with American Idol winner Katharine McPhee playing Karen Cartwright, the underdog and down on her luck New York actress. Waitressing until she lands her big break, she has the support of her boyfriend and the warnings of her Iowa parents (played by the real life married couple Dylan Baker and Becky Ann Baker). Finally landing a call back audition for Marilyn, Karen vies for the role and attention of the creative team against probable lead/series antagonist Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty).
Receiving first billing, Messing is quite good as Julia, despite not having the comedic opportunities of Will and Grace. McPhee competently plays the inexperienced ingénue in a role that echoes her own experiences. Anjelica Huston adds some sass to the role of producer Eileen Rand, a powerful woman unsurprisingly suffering financially through a divorce (as most powerful women in the media do). The men are a tad less interesting, with Jack Davenport as the conniving and manipulative director Derek and Christian Borle plays Julia’s conflicted writing partner Tom.
Smash will appeal to musical fans, and will undoubtedly be a guilty pleasure for those who are familiar with Broadway shows. With documentaries like Every Little Step proving that the debilitating audition process is rife with examinable material, Smash will surely have enough storylines to see its first season through an interesting journey.