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“Smash” Deserves To Be a Smash Hit

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 26:  Actresses Megan Hi...

Hilty, McPhee, Huston and Messing


After all the promos that NBC has been running about the musical drama “Smash,” no one can be blamed if they feel like they’ve seen it already.

I have seen it. The first four episodes, that is.

And the series deserves to be a smash.

Sure, “Smash” — which premieres at 10 p.m. Monday on Channel 2 – dances to the tune of several Broadway clichés. The clichés include the Midwest girl trying to make it to the Broadway; the director who uses the casting couch; the parents worried that their daughter’s dreams are unattainable; and the difficult writer who is in conflict with the difficult director.

But this series from several Broadway producers and Steven Spielberg triumphs despite the clichés because of some excellent performances, an incredible cast and a mesmerizing star turn from a former “American Idol” finalist, Katharine McPhee.

Don’t be worried. We’re not in “Glee” land. “Smash” has a realistic setting – the fictional development of a musical on the life of Marilyn Monroe.

As anyone who has seen the promos knows by now, it stars include Debra Messing, McPhee, Anjelica Huston and Broadway star Megan Hilty

Messing plays a Broadway writer, Julia Houston, with a gay songwriting partner, Tom Levitt (Christian Borle). Julia and her husband, Frank (Brian D’Arcy James), are planning to adopt a second child, which means her life is a little busy. Maybe too busy to write “Marilyn.”

However, a producer about to be divorced, Eileen Rand (Huston), from her philandering producer husband, is hot to get “Marilyn” off the ground for financial reasons.

The two women up for the lead role are a beautiful, naïve neophyte, Karen Cartwright (McPhee) and a veteran chorus girl Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty of “Wicked”). Karen is like a young and innocent Marilyn, while Ivy Lynn looks more like her.

The cast also includes a handsome director, Derek Wills (Jack Davenport); Karen’s protective and almost perfect boyfriend, Dev Sundaram (Raza Jaffrey); and Tom’s noisy assistant, Ellis (Jaime Cepero).

I admit I was predisposed to love this series. When I was growing up, my father always played show tunes on Sunday and it’s a habit I continue to this day (to the occasional annoyance of my children).

But the first four episodes are so full of energy, great music and soaring performances that they exceeded my expectations. And who knew that McPhee could actually act as well as sing so beautifully? She is a revelation.

Nick Jonas, the teen musical star who starred in “Les Miserables,” makes a guest appearance in one of the early episodes and Uma Thurman and Bernadette Peters are among the guests stars in the first season.

This isn’t to say that any of the twists are hard for anyone to see if they understand how Broadway works and musicals are developed.

But as any musical lover knows, even the best musicals can be clichéd and predicable. As long as they have great songs and great performances and someone or something to root for, musicals can stay on Broadway for years. Let’s hope “Smash” has the same fate on TV.

Rating: 4 stars out of 4

I repeat my Thursday tweet about the throwaway line that New England quarterback Tom Brady had in criticizing Buffalo area hotels. “I don’t know what was more idiotic. Brady’s off-the-cuff remark or The News putting it on the front page. I vote for The News. It had time to think.”

After thinking about it further, I stand by my tweet. The News is becoming TV News, overreacting to a silly story and taking a dig about Buffalo much more seriously than Brady intended it to be.

Channel 4 treated Brady’s comment Wednesday as if it were an act of war, interviewing many local citizens and a New York Ranger to defend the area’s honor. The extensive coverage became downright laughable.

You expected more from the local newspaper on Thursday, a day after TV was done with it. Brady’s comment deserved a few paragraphs in a Super Bowl notes column and nothing more. However, I’ve been at Super Bowls when the silliest comments get treated like front page news. So I understand why The News was giving some readers what they wanted – a reason to be angry in the comments section. I just respect many readers and believe they understand how small the city looks when the local paper is so sensitive that it makes a mountain out of a molehill. 

Next time something like this happens, let’s borrow a page from Bills receiver Stevie Johnson and ask “why so serious?”    


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3 responses to "“Smash” Deserves To Be a Smash Hit"

  1. Doug says:

    Yea, but what other city would have a comment like this made out it? Regardless of the quality of the hotels, outsiders always think they can get away with a shot at Buffalo. You cant keep ignoring that stuff. Im glad the news made a big deal out of it.

    This show Smash is gonna stink – I wouldnt be caught dead watching it.

  2. Musicals– other than Glee– have a horrible track record on television. See Viva Laughlin, Love Monkey, and Cop Rock. The idea of characters in a television series randomly breaking out into song is, for the most part, very campy. Yes, stage musicals have their fans, but it’s a niche, nowhere near the size you’d need to support a program on a major broadcast network. Being on NBC isn’t going to help much, other than perhaps the lower standards.

    I see Smash smashing to pieces, quite frankly.

    • alanp says:

      Of course, you could be right. But the musical flops you reference had gimmicks. The singing in “Smash” comes naturally by virtue of its premise — it is a show about the making of a musical. Give it a shot. I don’t think you will be disappointed if you come with an open mind.

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