When you name a show Smash, you better have a lot of confidence because critics can turn that title against you quickly. Fortunately the NBC series Smash has everything to capture your attention and never lets the audience go.
It has the beauty and heartbreak of the Broadway theater as its backdrop, with the most interesting characters, schemers and dreamers of all types, to enjoy as the drama unfolds.
Smash also has a stellar cast and an impressive production team since it started as an idea from executive producer Steven Spielberg. And it has show-stopping music integrated into the storytelling because the series centers around people trying to make a great musical about Marilyn Monroe.
A key ingredient to Smash’s strength is the rivalry that develops between two actresses who covet the lead role of Marilyn Monroe. There is the youthful, inexperienced Midwestern beauty Karen (Katharine McPhee, of American Idol fame). And there is the chorus girl veteran Ivy Bell (Megan Hilty, Wicked and 9 to 5: The Musical), who is determined to finally get her big break.
Both light up the screen when they perform, and more than hold their own in scenes with Oscar-winner Anjelica Huston (Prizzi Honor) playing Eileen, the producer of the Marilyn project. The show’s director Derek (Jack Davenport, Pirates of the Caribbean films), is brilliant, but comes with a huge ego.
The show also follows the successful songwriting duo of Julia (Emmy-winner Debra Messing, Will & Grace) and Tom (Christian Borle). Both struggle in their personal lives, as they seizes the opportunity to write another Broadway hit.
There are a lot of stereotypical themes explored, such as the backstabbing rivalries, the casting couch, and egocentric directors. And McPhee and Hilty say the show reflects real experiences.
“The stereotype is there for a reason,” Katharine said. “The backstabbing can be part of the business and you just have to pick up where you left off and keep going.”
Megan explained, “I think the genius of making this idea into a series is that when you are a live theater performer, you’re giving so much of yourself and there’s so there’s so much at stake when you’re out and exposing yourself in front of hundreds of thousands of people, that it naturally sets the tone and sets the stage for high drama.”
“It’s because the adrenaline’s going and the stakes are so high. This show definitely taps into all of those things. The drama that happens behind the curtain is way more interesting than what’s happening on the stage. Really.”
For all those reasons, the life of Marilyn Monroe is a great analogy for the struggles that go on in the theater world, according to Megan.
She thinks it’s the perfect parallel because “her story is one of tragedy, heartbreak, glamour, love, and all things that make for great drama. It’s all the things that people want to watch and are intrigued by, which is why we’re still talking about her today.”
NBC has such faith in the show it has already been picked up for a second season. Tune in Mondays on NBC.