Let’s pause this Chicago theatre discussion for something much more important and topical.
I’m one of those people who goes around saying snobby things like, “I don’t have time for television; I attend the theatre.” However, that’s a total lie, and I usually spend it watching 1) Golden Girls reruns (duh) 2) How It’s Made marathons (I blame the hypnotic background music) or 3) Family Guy (the show just rawks).
(I also recently tried Downton Abbey on for size, but I kept nodding off. And Logo needs to be available in HD, because I refuse to endure another season of Drag Race in grainy standard resolution.)
So, Smash. That mega-hyped show about the making of a Broadway musical that Spielberg’s somehow involved with. Fine. What caught my eye was the cast: classy Anjelica Huston (one of my favorite actresses); Debra Messing; Brian d’Arcy James (a bushy-eyebrowed Saginaw, MI native who managed to survive starring as Shrek on Broadway) Christian Borle (Broadway’s “anti-hunk” and “ex Mr. Sutton Foster”) and Megan Hilty (one of my favorite Broadway blondes who dabbled in shows like Wicked and 9 to 5).
While we’re only two episodes in, I’m already liking what I see. Sure the show has some clichés (the smarmy and snobby British director, the feuding divas, the snoopy gay assistant, the embittered Broadway producer who views her latest project more as a personal vendetta than a smart business decision, and so on), but these things I like and enjoy.
Here are some other things I like:
1) Smash has street cred. The show’s creative team is filled with actual theatrical pros, including prolific playwright Theresa Rebeck (who created the thing), Broadway producer Craig Zadan, and the musical power-duo of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (who wrote Hairspray and the musical version of Catch Me if You Can) who serve as the show’s composers and executive producers.
2) It’s insider-y without being too insider-y. You can tell the writers *get* the business and are having fun poking fun at it. As someone who has a vague understanding about the business of Broadway (which makes me an expert compared to 99.999% of the world), I also get that the show takes many liberties with how musicals actually get created. But that’s completely fine with me because it’s a TV show, and we need to move the plot along without getting caught up in the boring technicalities of showbusiness. I mean, do we actually believe that in crime-ridden cities such as NYC, teams of a dozen or more, including an entire forensics department, obsesses for weeks on a single murder case, and each case ends with the key detectives either being nearly buried alive or risking getting raped as undercover prostitutes? Of course not. But who wants to see that show? Theatre nerds (I use that term lovingly because I count myself among them) on the chat boards are getting their collective dance belts in a big ol’ sweaty knot because Katharine McPhee’s character sang a pop song in her audition. Holy crap. Guess what? It’s a TV show and they need to draw the tweens in somehow. If the sacrifice is a pop song sung in a semi-logical context, I’m fine with that. These same nerds also smugly point out that McPhee’s character would never be seen at the same casting call as the Equity actors (Megan Hilty’s character). Guess what? No one cares. That said, it still amazes me that they are workshopping a show that doesn’t seem to have a book yet. Details!
2) Songs are sung in context. What killed Glee for me is how the overly auto-tuned routines are more about cashing in on the latest song fads and less about, well, anything else. That, and they’ve somehow tricked America into thinking Gwyneth Paltrow is a singer. Smash, on the other hand, uses music in a logical way — songs are sung in the rehearsal room, in daydream moments and, in true musical theatre fashion, to express inner desires. Now, if they would just dial down (or, preferably, turn off) the auto-tune for Hilty and McPhee — the gals can sing, why make them sound like robots?
3) Diva belt-off opps. The final moments in the pilot ep where Hilty and McPhee had a powerbelting showdown made this theatre queen all giddy. More of that, please. The second ep lacked such moments, and it made me rather :(
4) Broadway cameos abound. Until Smash (and I don’t watch Glee, remember), the only way I could see some of my favorite Broadway pros onscreen was watching Law & Order re-runs. Look! Donna Murphy’s a kickass lawyer! Who’s that playing the unethical and manipulative child psychologist? Oh, it’s Debra Monk! You go, Debbie! Is that Karen Ziemba as a weary NYC cop? Why yes, yes it is. My favorite Smash cameo so far must be during the most recent episode when Broadway wunderkind Jordan Roth appeared for a hot second in a restaurant scene talking to the show-within-the-show’s director (Jack Davenport) about his musical idea involving vampires. Those who know, know that vampire musicals have a stellar track record on Broadway. The joke was not lost.
5) There’s an end product. Smash has a clear goal: to produce a hit, big-budget musical. That gives the entire piece momentum. There’s something innately satisfying about getting an insider’s view on the creation of a thing — as tacky and ill-fated as that thing may be.
What do YOU think of the show so far? Comment away!