News Column

Katharine McPhee, Megan Hilty Cast to Make Smash

February 10, 2012

Rita Sherrow

NBC is hoping "Smash," premiering 9 p.m. Monday, is, well, a smash. Me, too. This brilliant new series takes viewers along on a roller coaster ride behind the scenes of putting on a Broadway show and into the lives of those who work in the industry every day. A place where, sometimes, dreams become reality.

Yes, there are songs but in appropriate places and what a joyful noise they provide. Actresses Megan Hilty and Katharine McPhee are incredible as a chorus line performer who wants to break out and a newbie who wants to break into the business, respectively, and both want the role of Marilyn in -- what else -- "Marilyn the Musical."

Mind you, Hilty has already starred on Broadway in "9 to 5: The Musical" and "Wicked." The discovery here is that the amazing voice of 2006 "American Idol" runner-up McPhee isn't her only talent. She can act, and well. Didn't really get that about her in her first film "House Bunny."

It's something everyone will know from the first appearance on screen leading into the first bars of McPhee singing "You Are Beautiful" as an unknown brimming with talent at an audition for "Marilyn."

"Smash" is a magical series where all the stars seem to align -- the talent, the writing, the music and the incredible acting. It was mega-producer Steven Spielberg's idea to make a series about the making of a Broadway musical. But it's so much more.

The whole cast is to die for (cliche but true) -- Emmy-winner Debra Messing, Oscar-winner Anjelica Huston, Tony-nominee Brian d'Arcy James and Tony Award-nominee Christian Borle plus Jack Davenport ("Pirates of the Caribbean" films), Jaime Cepero ("Porgy and Bess") and Raza Jaffrey ("MI-5"). And so are the undercurrents at work and in the real lives of the characters. Messing's character Julia and Borle's Tom -- one's a composer, the other a lyricist -- have their own issues.

He has his eye on his new assistant who suggests "Marilyn the Musical." She has promised her house husband (James) she will take time off while they try to adopt a child but gets swept up in "Marilyn" instead. Huston is Eileen the producer in the middle of a wickedly nasty divorce from her philandering producer husband, which ties up her funds and her latest production. Davenport's director-choreographer Derek is brilliant at work but has a hate/hate relationship with Tom and declares early on that he "discovered Kristin Chenoweth and this isn't her part."

McPhee is perfect as Iowa girl Karen working as a waitress while trying to make it on the Great White Way. Her parents want her to come home but her live-in boyfriend (Raza Jaffrey), who works for the NYC Mayor's Office, is totally supportive. Hilty is sexy girl Ivy with the obvious talent and experience and she's sick of being in the chorus. She wants up front and will do anything to get there. And that's just the beginning.

Then there is the music, both original songs and covers. The songs are organic to the plot but don't interfere with the flow of the series (for those who aren't into musicals).

From the first few bars of Karen's audition for "Marilyn," (and the chills it brings), you know a star is born in the series and in real life. Having seen the first four episodes, I can easily say it gets better and better. Did not want it to end.

Will American viewing audiences embrace "Smash"? That's the big "if." The show is expensive to make (a rumored $7 million for the pilot and half that per episode) and people may assume it's "Glee" for adults. It's not.

It's a drama with angst, frustration, grief, joy, infidelity, love, insecurity, egomania, laughter, tears, characters you will love (and hate) and music in all the right places. It has the heart and the people behind it to make it a dream series. But, who knows?

Like they say in the show, "Sometimes dreams are hard."

Source: (c) 2012 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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