A pair of dueling divas singing “Let me be your star.” A tough-minded producer who looks downright docile compared with her ex-in-the-making. A man concerned that Broadway is beating out baby as he begins the adoption process with his musical-making wife. An assistant credited too readily with generating the concept for a musical he’ll never shepherd to the stage. And a director who seems more creepy than creative.
It’s just another day in New York City — complete with cabs, subways, liquid power lunches and actors hoofing it as waitstaff. Also auditions full of people who’ve never heard of “audition 101″ gems like “don’t dress like the character you want to play” and “beware the director who calls you to his apartment in the wee hours.”
The characters feel complex enough to carry audience interest for the long run, and the seeds of plenty of potential plotlines have already been sewn. Emotional baggage. Intellectual property. Wardrobe misadventures. It’s all there — in one smartly-written package.
Like the best Broadway musicals, the first episode of “Smash” builds slowly towards a big finish, with lots of high points along the way. Also plenty of issues to ponder between episodes. Which ranks higher in the hierarchy of humanity — talent or kindness? When is trusting your gut a sign of fear — and when is it a sign of courage? And who’s the bigger downer — a cynical New Yorker or a defeatist Midwesterner?
“Smash” follows the journey of a small idea to the big stage – plus the lives of those whose best (and sometimes worst) efforts get it there. It’s relatable stuff for those not schooled in musical theater, but intoxicating for those who breathe to banter around words like “mix” and “belt.”
A critical question in the real world of theater gets asked within the first few minutes of the first episode — “Why isn’t anyone doing new musicals anymore?” And our first shot of the Shubert Theatre shows a marquee reading “Heaven on Earth.” The show clearly preaches to the choir, though I suspect it’ll yield plenty of conversion stories over time.
Making theater complicates life, and life complicates making theater. Such is the stuff of “Smash” — and executive producers, including Steven Spielberg, have certainly earned a callback.
Note: Click here to learn more about NBC’s “Smash”
Coming up: Celebrating “Kids’ Night on Broadway”