Demand Weekly provides new movie reviews of hot movies and shows on demand from the POV of watching from the comfort of your home. Today’s review: SMASH (NBC).
SMASH - On Demand
Clichés on Broadway
Media is changing. Broadway shows used to become films. Now comic books become films which become Broadway musicals. Now we get TV shows that become Broadway musicals and TV shows about musicals. And we watch them on our computers or iPads (legally by streaming on Hulu or illegally—watching on YouTube as Patti LuPone melts down on stage as Gypsy).
NBC has decided to drive word-of-mouth by streaming “Smash” online via Hulu before it even premieres. Smart or crazy? We shall see….
Broadway Musicals. They’re hackneyed and cliché. There hasn’t been a good one in years. Oh, once in a while one will break the mold (The Book of Mormon, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Next to Normal, Spring Awakening). But they just don’t make ‘em like they used to. Film musicals are the same. There is still greatness to be found if they are done right (thank you, CHICAGO), but are painful when they fail (sorry, NINE).
I’m a total sucker for a good musical. Oh, to hear glorious voices and get swept up in the rhythm of talented hoofers, and if they are telling a good story, well-acted, there is nothing more satisfying. When “Glee” came on the air, I was delighted, even if it has proven to be mostly uneven. I knew it would open the door to new ideas in musicals. Knowing “Smash” was on the way had me cautiously optimistic.
I don’t want to be too hard on it, because I really, really want a musical TV show to succeed. But after seeing the first episode, I’m slightly less hopeful. In the pilot episode, the clichés come hard and fast with few surprises. Mostly the music is less than effervescent pop. Katherine McPhee’s version of Christina Aguilera’s Beautiful is fine, but not thrilling, and seriously, starting with her singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow? Never set up a comparison to an icon. It’s bad enough that the musical is based on Marilyn Monroe, but to do a Judy Garland song? Don’t even try.
But “Smash” is working really really hard to prove it’s got A STAR IS BORN chops. Working harder, not smarter.
“Smash” even has a bit of the backstage of the backstage drama in that it is “introducing” Katharine McPhee, whom they are hoping will be perceived as a fascinating new star. The problem is that although Ms. McPhee is lovely as the sweet ingenue, she does not have nearly the chops or the charisma for the role as a naïve young woman who comes to New York wanting to be a Broadway Star.
She isn’t suspicious when the director asks her over to work on the role at 10pm (she’s innocent!), and when he does make a pass, she’s upset (she’s a GOOD girl!), and when she decides to tease him and then walk away, she succeeds in making him even more interested (she’s feisty!). Her big solos are heavily sweetened with reverb and strings. And she is not exactly believable as Marilyn Monroe, which makes most of the characters’ fascination with her rather difficult to swallow.
As the talented chorine who is tired of the chorus and dreams of getting her name above the title, Megan Hilty (a bona fide Broadway Star) is amazing, with a mad vocal range, a too-die-for body, and charisma to spare. There is simply no comparison when these two women are side by side.
Angelica Huston is appropriately, if so far one-dimensionally, imperious as the hard-edged producer going through a divorce and needing to prove she still has “it.” Debra Messing and Christian Boyle are excellent as the friends/writing partners, and I can only hope Brian d’Arcy James will get to show off his singing as his character expands in further episodes. Can Jack Davenport (yummy Lloyd Simcoe from “Flashforward”) sing? Don’t know and don’t care, he’s just fun to watch!
On the definite plus side, the musical within the musical’s numbers, written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (HAIRSPRAY) and choreographed by Joshua Bergasse are terrific, which makes me hope their vision of actually creating a Broadway show out of this comes to pass.
There is so much actual drama in the development of a Broadway show, (e.g., SPIDERMAN). I fervently hope the show develops into a more interesting exploration of musical theatre. However, if it doesn’t, my dad has a barn. We can put on our own show, Judy!
Jean Tait is a contributing writer to On Demand Weekly. Currently the Director of Programming for the Connecticut Film Festival, Jean has programmed for the Jacksonville Film Festival and Sundance Channel.
SMASH (NBC) is available on Hulu before it's Broadcast Premiere (FEB 6).
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