Drama, queens

Posted on 02 Feb 2012 at 5:01pm

NBC’s hyped ‘Smash’ wants one thing: To be the next ‘Glee.’ It succeeds

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HELLO NORMA JEAN | The making of a stage musical about Marilyn Monroe creates a competition between two actresses (Katharine McPhee, Meg Hilty) in the aptly-named ‘Smash.’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Smash has one goal in mind: To out-gay Glee.

The much-hyped hour-long drama series (NBC is hawking it by tying in to the Super Bowl, even though the real singing competition The Voice airs after the game; Smash is on Monday) has musical performances interwoven with a melodramatic storyline about the next Broadway star. Forget competing against other teens at regionals: This is the whole enchilada. (Although no one in the cast looks like they have ever eaten an enchilada. Too many carbs.)

A musical theater team — gay composer Tom (Christian Borle) and fag-hag lyricist Julia (Debra Messing) — get suddenly inspired to turn Marilyn Monroe’s life into a Broadway musical. That’s usually a years-long enterprise, only hot stage producer Eileen (Angelica Huston) needs a new show to replace one tanked because of her divorce. Marilyn sounds perfect. The key, though, will be getting the right star.

It’s instantly a showdown between two women: Veteran belter Ivy (Meg Hilty) and fresh newcomer Karen (Katharine McPhee). The sleazy British director Derek (Jack Davenport) wants to sleep with one, which may skew the vote, but the thing is, you really want both to get it. This isn’t Black Swan, it’s A Chorus Line.

Creator Theresa Rebeck is an old hand at New York theater, and Smash oozes insider knowledge gussied up for TV: The catty personality conflicts, the references to other shows and composers, the cumbersome, do-we-know-what-we’re-doing rehearsal process. These routines sometimes devolve into cliché (episode 2 is less deliciously addictive than the pilot, but still entertaining), but the style of the series — with rehearsals magically transforming into idealized fantasy stagings of what the show can be — works, keeping the show visually interesting.

Rebeck also knows her market: Theater queens. When Derek snipes that he doesn’t like gay people, Eileen shoots back that he picked the wrong profession; every assistant and chorus boy seems like a friend of Dorothy, and Tom gets his princess attitude going. Smash is less over-the-top than Glee, as if these characters are the same high schoolers a few years after graduation. Add American Idol runner-up McPhee into the mix (she’s a good actress) and fallen-from-Grace Messing, and Smash has everything a gay boy could want.

Break out the Playbill and grab an orchestra seat — Smash is in for a long run.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 3, 2012.

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