NBC’s new drama “Smash”, is just as punchy and fast-paced as its title suggests, taking us on the rollercoaster ride of producing a musical and picking its star. The musical in question is “Marilyn the Musical,” a theatrical account of the iconic blonde’s life story, and the brainchild of Julia Houston (Debra Messing) and Tom Levitt (Christian Borle). As for the star? That remains a mystery, but the competition has been whittled down to two girls—Ivy (Megan Hilty), an experienced ensemble player waiting for her big break, and Karen (Katharine McPhee), a mid-western dreamer brimming with potential.
McPhee steals the show right from the start with her outstanding performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The beautiful ballad gives ample opportunity for McPhee to play up the doe-eyed girl-next-door charm that won over the nation during her “American Idol” days. Like her character, she has a light resume, but she plays the role with a heavy complexity. Karen isn’t just another small town girl with big ambitions. Although she’s earnest and fresh-faced, she’s passion-driven, nearly to the point of destruction. She’s bouncy and humble and endearing, but when her career is at stake, she’s ready to smear on the war paint and croon her heart out. In ME’s opinion, she’s a top-notch Marilyn! Hilty’s Ivy, on the other hand, has a babydoll voice and sensual strut that bring her close to Marilyn’s level, but there’s something about her performance that feels a little less actress and a little more impersonator.
The pilot episode details each potential lead’s audition and ventures into the whole creative process of building a musical, proving once and for all that drama folks typically are quite a bit of drama themselves. Smash’s previews make it look like “Glee” for grown ups, but it’s actually a very realistic and compelling drama about a musical, and is not really a musical itself. There are no random bursts of song here, just the use of music when it makes sense (during auditions, rehearsals, etc.) There are original songs galore; Based on these numbers, ME would so go see a Marilyn musical!