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Is Smash the smash hit musical theatre needs?

SmashI wrote a blog earlier in the week that looked at the popular medium of television and how it could help to raise the profile of musical theatre through shows like Glee and Smash. While I felt that Glee had somewhat fallen short of the target in that aspect, the positive feedback surrounding Smash seemed to mark it as a show that could do what I had hoped Glee might; not having seen it for myself however, the thoughts of those who had were all I had to go on. Last night though, I finally caught up with them as I sat down to watch the pilot episode.

Unlike Glee, which only contains smatterings of musical theatre within its episodes, Smash has an unadulterated focus on the business of show business. The concept of Smash is formed around the creation of a musical based on Marilyn Monroe, taking viewers on an inside look at the process of putting on a new musical on Broadway. Being a drama series, there are inevitable moments of fact vs fiction, but on the whole, I felt that it offers a pretty interesting and insightful picture of what the process entails. In the first episode, we see the idea of a Marilyn musical planted and it quickly gathers momentum with a demo song being recorded, a director recruited and auditions to cast the lead role of Marilyn Monroe taking place. For musical theatre fans, that would probably be enough on its own to get them watching, but for millions of other TV viewers who don’t already have that love of the industry, Smash needed something more to bring them in too.

It would have been easy to make Smash a razzle-dazzle sensation of a show, with lots of glamour, glitz and big musical theatre-style numbers, but without any further substance to it, that would have quickly lost its razzle and Smash would have failed to dazzle the viewers. What gives me a good feeling about its chances of success is the time it dedicates to the story and characters within the show. It seems to be prepared to take its time setting up the story arcs that will unfold throughout the season and has avoided stereotyping in the introduction of the characters, instead giving them enough depth to make you intrigued as to how they will develop and what we are yet to discover about them. There isn’t a blinkered focus on just one or two of the characters, but a nice balance between them all and, with the added bonus of a great cast that includes Debra Messing and Anjelica Huston, Smash has some pretty solid foundations to build upon.

What I like about Smash is that it didn’t take the easy route of following the paths of two girls looking to make it on Broadway, but instead decided to incorporate every aspect that is a part of musical theatre life. The characters of Ivy (Megan Hilty) and Karen (Katharine McPhee) provide the Struggling Starlet perspective for the viewers, alongside Tom (Christian Borle) and Julia (Debra Messing) as the show writers, Eileen (Anjelica Huston) as the producer and Derek (Jack Davenport) as the director. The added ‘ensemble’ of characters’ boyfriends, husbands, assistants and so forth also serve to widen the show’s scope beyond the bright lights of Broadway.

With only one episode under my belt, it would be impossible to categorically state that Smash is the hit show we needed to make people more open to the idea of musical theatre, but I certainly have high hopes for it. There are some superb original musical numbers seamlessly worked into the show and Mcphee and Hilty both possess great voices. I loved the last song of the episode (Let Me Be Your Star) and the choreographed performance of a baseball-themed number for the Marilyn musical was stunningly executed. Smash feels fresh and exciting, paying homage to the musical theatre industry in an inspired manner that will surely please theatre enthusiasts and hook in a whole bunch of new ones. Whether it can keep this up throughout the entire season remains to be seen, but if it can, then Smash could be one of the most effective promotional tools for musical theatre we currently have.

By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)

Thursday 26th April 2012