I have to admit something… I absolutely love musicals and theater. And when writing a list of my favorite movies, it was hard to ignore this fact. They’re like a guilty pleasure that I don’t feel entirely guilty about. There’s something about it that draws me in and makes me wish I could sing and dance like they do. If I could’ve, I would’ve been theater kid in school.
I’ve always felt that there aren’t enough musicals made into movies, or at least good movies. One of my most favorite movies is Every Little Step, a documentary about creating the musical A Chorus Line. I was fascinated with the most painful, heartbreaking moments of the behind-the-scenes creation process. Maybe the creators of Smash were influenced by this movie. Sure, we like watching musicals, but the fascination doesn’t stop when the curtains fall. We want to know how it started, what these people are really like and how it all came together. Thankfully, network TV got the hint and created Smash. Smash is so different than anything else on TV today. And it’s definitely not what you expect.
When I first saw the previews, I assumed the show would revolve around Katherine McPhee, who would obviously get the role of Marilyn Monroe in an up-and-coming Broadway play. McPhee’s Karen is so beautiful and angelic, the perfect embodiment of Marilyn’s Norma Jean. She’s the counter to Megan Hilty’s Ivy, the cutthroat and curvacious diva who steals the role of Marilyn away and then progresses to ruin the part each episode. These gorgeous female leads are stars in their own right and McPhee’s American Idol win and Hilty’s Broadway background achieve excellence as believable characters. Simply put, it’s easy to love Karen and hate Ivy… and hate everyone else for choosing Ivy over Karen.
The Marilyn play is co-written by Debra Messing, directed by Jack Davenport (recognize him from Pirates of the Caribbean?) and produced by Angelica Huston. Not to mention that the actual TV show is produced by Steven Spielburg, who is a huge fan of on-stage performance. With a cast like this, the show would have a difficult time NOT being a success. This fantastic and seasoned set of actors share the spotlight through a series of side stories. Huston shines as a recently separated woman enjoying her freedom with spunk and sass. Messing has the controlled performance of a woman in love with her husband, as well as actor in the show. In comparison, a few other side stories fall short. The director and Ivy begin a rather passion-less affair. The other co writer, played by Christian Borle, has a forgettable and disjointed love life. And then there’s that annoying assistant that doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.
Smash hosts a long list of guest spots as well, famous in both popular culture and on Broadway. Each episode features one or more perfectly executed musical numbers. Plus, the songs are incredibly catchy… I’ve had “Let Me Be Your Star” stuck in my head for months. A lot of people have been calling it a “grown-up Glee”. However, the show attracts such a varied audience, that I find it difficult to pigeonhole it into such a toned down description. It’s easy to imagine that this is really how musicals are made. There’s a lot of fighting, a lot of backstabbing and maybe a lot of sleeping around too. They don’t call it “drama” for nothing.