Stop What You Are Doing. "Smash" Has Arrived!

I’m not sure you guys have heard of this little show – maybe you caught an advertisement or 10,000 – but the pilot episode of Smash debuted on NBC last week. If you ask me, this seemed like a bit of old news since the episode was available for digital download on iTunes and Amazon as early as two weeks ago three weeks ago (sorry for the delay of this post)…but still, I cannot sit here behind my computer and act like I am not excited.

Exactly what Marilyn would do...
Bang an entire Baseball line-up.
And oh, excited I am. In fact, watching the pilot episode took me back to the time when I watched the pilot episode of Glee (don’t look at me like that; comparisons between the two are bound to come up). After decades of major television networks avoiding televised musicals and Broadway references (less the Tonys), major television executives, creative teams and the masses are finally embracing the medium. This is particularly rewarding for me in that the addition of Smash marks another show where I, your resident nerdy, theater blogger, can indulge in my fascination in a new venue on a weekly basis.

The show has done an impressive job of translating certain Broadway motifs for a larger, NBC audience, while still tipping its hat to the theater junkies getting all giddy for understanding the references in their entirety. C’mon…the shots of Times Square, Shubert Theater and Shubert Alley (see you later Memphis and welcome Heaven on Earth), the American Idiot taxi advertisement (crafty placement there, Michael Mayer), the Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark reference…I love it all. Not to mention, the cameos of Savannah Wise and Annaleigh Ashford (and even I had to do a double take when they enchanted my screen), this show clearly is on pace to delight its loyal Broadway fans needing a fix. Even with all of that, nothing will compare to the two lines that got me panting on my bed.

“Why doesn’t anyone do new musicals anymore?”

“We had a respectable run…82 performances.”


Sorry; theater-gasm. That came out of nowhere.

Right out of the gate, the show got more right then it did wrong. Obviously, pilot episode equals setup and we got a ton of that. We have composer Julia (Debra Messing) and her husband Frank (Brian d’Arcy James) going through an adoption process while the former is putting out feelers for the Marilyn musical with her composing partner Tom (Christian Borle). Eileen (Anjelica Huston) is going through a divorce and subsequently, her Broadway producer funds are locked up in Escrow. Going out for the lead role of Marilyn is the ringer Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty) and newcomer Karen (Katherine McPhee).

TWERQ it, Sassy Borle!
Obviously, some developments excite me more then others and part of that has to do with the initial impression of the ensemble. As the composing team, a reflection of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Smash’s music team, also responsible for the music of Hairspray and Catch Me If You Can), Debra Messing and Christian Borle are perfection. They have a natural charisma and chemistry that lights up the screen whenever either one or both are on camera together. I could have watched Julia tear into Tom’s shady assistant for the entire hour if they wanted to. Brian d’Arcy James is doing fine with what he has been given, even though a performing talent like his seems sidelined as Julia’s husband Frank. One of my more looming concerns for the show is that…well, for all the talent in the behind-the-scenes team and supporting cast, it seems unlikely that any of them will do any lifting on the performing or singing front. Here’s me hoping that is not the case.

Another concern worth highlighting? Well, the Shaimon/Wittman team are the go-to for writing a 60’s score, but they seem really set in their ways and unwilling to budge from that aesthetic. “The National Pastime” could have fit into any of their pre-existing productions on style and staging alone if they needed a baseball number. There is nothing wrong with playing to your strengths and working within a certain milieu, but it is only a matter of time before there somewhat repetitive numbers become even more repetitive.

Let’s go to the performances…Marilyns to the dance floor!

I can’t stand her. Seriously…first impressions can be rough (Hairspray pun not intended), so I’ll give our “introduced” (Haha, good one Smash) “actress” some time to flesh things out. But she dug herself quite a hole with her sub-par acting and performing. “Over the Rainbow” was bleh, but “Beautiful” managed to be even worse. That is really saying something…after all, I watch Glee. Granted, the poor choice of number (cliché much?) and the worst, most confusing staging ever (the boyfriend? Really? Isn’t that at odds with the message of the song) is not her fault, but McPhee’s lackluster presence (not to mention, her over-processed singing) does not excite me at all. Especially considering a huge plot point of the show is the battle between Karen and Ivy for the Marilyn role.

And c’mon…

Girlfriend brought it. In case you are wondering, I have never seen Hilty perform in anything prior to this show and quite frankly, “Broadway Sensation” was majorly hyperbole considering she only originated one role (9 to 5: The Musical). Having said that, she is clearly the frontrunner and I am already loving her as Ivy. The fact that the show has endless commercials and people raving over Karen is pretty delusional, especially after taking one look at Hilty. I initially thought “Pastime” was a knock-out performance, but it was more of an impact number to distract from its real quality. The number was lacking, but Hilty was charismatic and the overall execution was there.

Bottom line, Ivy commands more attention, has more experience and has the Marilyn qualities and looks. I can suspend my disbelieve to some extent that Karen is in the running, but they better stop trying to make fetch happen.

To be fair, I kind of, sort of got it as the episode came to a conclusion.

McPhee got a little redemption in my book, even though I think she is in way over her head. Smash is sure to be a runaway hit and right now, she stands out as the weakest link. Hilty was lovely and major kudos to our composing team, because this number was the best of the episode and felt fresh enough for the venue and distinct enough from their usual style.

The show returns tonight and is looking to build on its momentum after the premiere debuted to great ratings. Who knows how things we’ll pan out…and that is one of the most intriguing elements to the show. The musical drama and the Broadway setting are still new to mainstream television and we finally have a show willing to flip over the rocks and investigate a venue less examined…and now an even bigger audience gets to know the source of so much inspiration and joy that resides in Times Square. How exciting!

Photo Credit: Smash/NBC
Screen Grab Credit: NRNW

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