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Smash Must-Sing TV?

February 2, 2012 By:
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Megan Hilty is on board as a Broadway "baby" in a scene from NBC's "Smash." (Photo by Will Hart/NBC)

It's a show about "Let's put on a show!"

But its production values are none that Mickey Rooney or Judy Garland would recognize, and its gamble more a multimillion buck bet than a dime-a-dozen lucky shot.

 

Welcome to the pink-hair coiffed, too.And along the way, it smashes stereotypes that theater can only accommodate the purple-hair set.

Smash, Steven Spielberg and NBC's peacock-strut of a musical about their own week with Marilyn -- the series focuses on the ordeal of staging a new musical about icon Marilyn Monroe -- is Broadway brave, a gleeful antidote to TV's more saccharine salutes on what it means to be musical and theatrical -- and, possibly, fiscally suicidal.

It is all so glamorously de-glitzed as auditions and anxiety are shown to go hand-in-hand in a dance along the precipice that is the proscenium stage.

What they did for love hits home; I have been a Broadway baby since I was 9, introduced to the mesmerizing impact of musicals when seeing my first show, West Side Story, which helped define my own career story along the way. In the thousand or so shows I have seen since -- and the dozen I've written, with professional productions staged throughout this country, Israel, Romania and Germany -- I have never lost the lull and the lure of the siren call.

Or is that the half-hour knock on the door before showtime?

And here, Smash gives all of us -- the theatrical straight, the queens and the curious -- an insider's look into what makes the music of the night as ephemeral and exciting as the phantom who traded an opera house for a Broadway stage 24 years ago.

But then, those who think Broadway is a bridge to nowhere haven't been paying attention to the tolls it's been collecting.It is a heavy responsibility for NBC and producer Spielberg, whose entreaty to have a close encounter with a thespian kind would seem anathema to today's ratings-targeted younger generation, ticketed for instant gratification while seemingly more attuned to Pandora than the pantheon of the Sondheims, Lloyd Webbers and Hermans.

Last year was a record-ca-ching season for the Great Green Way. And as far as attracting an "older" crowd -- not that there's anything wrong with that -- such a stereotype was shattered by the Broadway League's own recent study, finding that the theatergoer's average age is a mere 44.

The laugh's on the naysayers: Something for everyone -- comedy tonight (and maybe Tuesday night, too, if you're a Gleek)!

Which brings us back to Smash, given a prime-time showcase for opening night, Feb. 6, the evening after the Super Bowl. And the network does have super expectations for its own Broadway-bound game plan.

With Debra Messing messing with the Lucy-ish image she had cultivated in comedy from 1998 to 2006 on Will & Grace, it all comes crashing down in Smash as she portrays a Broadway composer giving up the soundtrack for the mommy track.

Until she gets a whiff, that is, of the Monroe doctrine of a script that may make a musical out of a misfit.

There is also the Chorus Line crush of rivals for the lead role between intriguing ingenues (Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty -- both playing their parts to the hilt) with an I-can-do-that faith in, and yet fear of, themselves.

And then there's the ruthless producer (Anjelica Huston), who could knock the black hat right off of Max Bialystock's blockhead while making him her own prisoner of love.

(And let us not forget the words -- and lyrics -- of wisdom weaned from the sages of Spamalot that comes into play here, too: "You Won't Succeed on Broadway (If You Don't Have Any Jews.")It is all about eve and mourning -- the headaches and the headlines, the joy and the dread, the death wish and the deaf ear turned to critics -- all of what it takes to make a Broadway smash at once broad and weighty in appeal.

And in what is a major bet on Broadway brinkmanship, NBC is saying the Peacock will soar and swagger in this American idyll, a series of the saga of "dreamers and schemers."

So, it's the network's call to hit the lights come Monday night.

All the while hoping that it's not lights out by Tuesday.

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