Smash Is Everything A Theater Geek Would Want In A TV Show About Musicals

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Katharine McPhee vs. Megan Hilty in Smash

Smash is a show for theater geeks: Aspiring performers who labor in the back of ensembles wishing to be the star under the spotlights. Obsessives who shell out hundreds of dollars to sit in an obstructed-view seat and see the dazzling, big-budget Broadway shows. Viewers who've been disappointed by TV and want a new drama to fall in love with.

Many other early reviews have raved that  Smash is like watching from backstage as a Broadway show comes to life. Writing team Julia (Debra Messing) and Tom (Christian Borle) stumble into the perfect circumstances to write a musical about Marilyn Monroe, but getting it on the stage is a struggle. They're grappling with a temperamental director who has a bad history with Tom; Julia's husband resents her for taking on a new project when they're adopting a baby; and they have to find the girl to play Marilyn.

In come two very different, very talented performers: Broadway veteran Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty), and fresh-faced Iowa transplant Karen Cartwright (Katharine McPhee). One oozes sex appeal, while the other brings the heart. Because as much as she was known for her tight dresses and pouts, Marilyn pleaded in her last interview, “Please don't make me a joke.” Add to that several fantastic, snappy numbers in the pilot alone, and you're witnessing the simultaneous creation of two must-watch shows: The Marilyn musical and the NBC hit.

The show courts viewers with an impressive pedigree: Debra Messing channels her famous Will & Grace persona to play Julia; Anjelica Huston is the director with a hidden motive for snatching up the Marilyn musical; then there's Coupling‘s Jack Davenport as a smarmy but sexy and brilliant director. Did we mention that Steven Spielberg was one of the original producers?

It's also pretty ambitious: The original intent was, if viewers liked the show-within-a-show musicals from each season, Spielberg's production company would try and actually stage these shows on real Broadway stages. (Read this fascinating profile in New York Magazine; like the show, it's engrossing.)

Smash is smartly populated with authentic theater people. Brian d'Arcy James, who originated the role of Shrek on Broadway a few years ago, plays Julia's husband Frank. Then you have Christian Borle, the original Emmett in Legally Blonde: The Musical, jumping to the other side of things to play Julia's writing partner Tom. It only makes sense that the men in Debra Messing's life would both come from the Great White Way.

Most importantly, Marilyn hopeful #1 Megan Hilty is Ivy Lynn: She's taken the Broadway stage to play Glinda in Wicked and in the musical adaptation of Dolly Parton‘s 9 to 5. You couldn't cast an actress to play permanent ensemble member Ivy if she hadn't already tasted fame.

But then you have the other side of the coin: Katharine McPhee playing the farm-girl-meets-big-city role with surprising depth. Yes, it's a bit frustrating to see “Introducing Katharine McPhee” on every poster since technically she's already famous, having competed on American Idol and even enjoyed a brief pop career. But when it comes to TV she's a newbie through and through.

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