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“Smash” Brings Us Behind the Red Curtain [Review]

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I’ve always enjoyed shows that bring the viewer behind the scenes of worlds we rarely get to see. I thought that Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, a dramedy about the inner workings of a Saturday Night Live type show, was too short lived, only lasting one season. As a radio guy, of course I enjoyed WKRP In Cincinnati, and more recently, NewsRadio. So we’ve covered TV, radio, and even movies before, but NBC’s Smash is really the first regular series to go behind the scenes of the creation of a Broadway musical extravaganza.

One of the great things about living in Ocean County is the fact that we can hop a NJ Transit train any time we like and check out a Broadway show. But how many times have you thought about how that show made it to Broadway in the first place?

Smash takes us from the first seeds of the idea, a musical about Marilyn Monroe, from the writers (Will & Grace’s Debra Messing and real life Broadway veteran Christian Borle) to the struggle to land financing (with Angelica Huston as the producer in the middle of a messy divorce), and casting and early rehearsals (“workshops”, as they’re known in theater parlance).

The star actresses of the show are the play’s “Marilyn”, (played by another Broadway alum, Megan Hilty) and her rival, a naive midwestern actress making her first Broadway foray (played by American Idol alum Katherine McPhee). Throw in a womanizing, petulent director (British actor Jack Davenport) and catty chorus and minor characters, and you have the makings of an engaging series.

Smash goes with the Glee treatment, mixing in full musical numbers, but it works better for Smash, since the musical numbers are necessary to the storyline (whereas, with Glee, I always thought it was awkward for high schoolers to just break into fully produced musical numbers in the middle of taking a math test).

I think McPhee shines here. After Idol, she had modest music success, but never really caught on from a mainstream standpoint. On Smash she does a great job as the lights in her eyes newbie who could become a huge star but has jealous competitors conspiring against her. Anyone who’s ever moved to a new school, new job, or new neighborhood and encountered unprovoked jealousy and sabotage, thinking “what did I do to these people, why do they hate me?”, will be able to identify.

I’ve heard some theater professionals nit-pick some of the finer points of the believability of the actual process of putting on a fully staged musical from conception to performance, but then again I could pick apart some of the finer points of NewsRadio all day long. In the end, it’s still fun to get a peek behind the velvet curtain.

So what do you think? Have you been watching Smash? Do you like it so far?

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