For us Broadway fans, it felt like our unspoken dreams were finally heard in 2009 when Fox premiered “Glee,” its show about a high school glee club featuring multiple musical performances an episode.
Aside from the occasional movie-musicals (2008’s “Mamma Mia” atrocity doesn’t count), we theater kids previously had to actually visit the theater to see musical performances of Broadway quality. And while “Glee” is the gift that keeps on giving, NBC has just launched a fun, new surprise: “Smash.”
“Smash” is centered around the creation of a Broadway musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe, and portrays all the inner workings – from writing the music and lyrics to choreography and casting.
Remember Katharine McPhee? Think way back to 2006, when the TV-ratings powerhouse “American Idol” was still a baby and Simon and Paula were still behind the judge’s table. McPhee was runner-up on the show’s fifth season. And while McPhee remained somewhat in the spotlight – releasing three albums and holding a small role in the Anna Faris comedy “The House Bunny” – she mostly faded into Idol oblivion. With “Smash,” however, it looks like McPhee’s finally got her true big break.
McPhee stars as Karen Cartwright, an actress/waitress (surprising) vying for Broadway stardom and a hopeful for the role of Marilyn. Her big competition is Ivy Lynn, played by Broadway alum Megan Hilty (theater nerds will recognize her for playing Glinda in “Wicked”).
Ivy is first considered for Marilyn by the show’s writers and lyricists (one played by Debra Messing, finally back where she belongs on TV) but is thrust into competition when the show’s director, Derek (Jack Davenport) puts his weight behind Karen.
NBC is certainly putting a lot of weight behind the new series – advertisements have been running for weeks – and rightfully so. The series premiere Monday night has already garnered critical praise, which is much warranted.
The episode featured musical performances of original numbers, including a baseball-themed song and dance, as well as renditions of classics like “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera. McPhee’s vocals shined, but Hilty’s experience and prowess as a vocalist captured my attention. The actress truly has a grasp on the breathy, sexy tone of Marilyn’s singing voice.
For those of you shaking your head and commenting, “But I hate musicals!” this is where “Smash” differs from “Glee.” You don’t have to appreciate theater to appreciate the quality writing and already-clear character development. Musical numbers are tasteful and weaved into a story in a less-contrived manner than Fox’s counterpart.
Critics are already dubbing the show the adult’s “Glee,” and it’s easy to see why. With more sexual themes and adult topics like adoption proceedings, the show is setting itself up to extend far beyond the musical genre.
I’m just squealing with delight at its potential reach. Hopefully “Smash” can help the struggling NBC stay afloat.