When it comes to midseason buzz, NBC’s Smash is playing to a metaphorical full house. Yet amidst the early kudos and great anticipation the musical drama has been met with, questions abound. Here is what the series’ creators and cast had to say during their Television Critics Association press tour panel about this look at the making of a Broadway musical based on Marilyn Monroe.
HOW REALISTIC IS THE RAPID-ISH PROGRESS OF MARILYN: THE MUSICAL? | When the pilot opens, the songwriting team played by Debra Messing (Will & Grace) and Christian Borle (Legally Blonde: The Musical) is about to take a year off when a starry eyed assistant lobs out the idea of a musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. By the end of Episode 2, auditions and callbacks have been held, the lead role has seemingly be cast, and Marilyn: The Musical‘s backer (played by Anjelica Huston) is already talking out-of-town tryouts. A bit fast, no? Glossing over the months it takes to pen a show’s book “was a strategic decision,” admits series creator and Broadway vet Theresa Rebeck. “It was important for us to get to the workshop more quickly, so you could see the community [of Marilyn's actors and creatives] coming together.” But once Marilyn reaches that point, things “will proceed at a pace that is not as speedy,” Rebeck says.
AND HOW REALISTIC IS THE BACKSTAGE BACKSTABBING AND SUCH? | Smash‘s wealth of Broadway-bred executive producers “keeps it very authentic,” reports Megan Hilty, who starred in Broadway’s 9 to 5: The Musical and here vies with American Idol alumna Katharine McPhee for Marilyn‘s titular role. “The drama that goes on behind the curtain is way more interesting than what goes on on the stage.” (She let slip zero salacious details, drat.) Adds EP Marc Shaiman, a lyricist whose credits include Broadway’s Hairspray, “Everyone is really committed to make it the way it really is.”
IF NOT MARILYN MONROE, WHAT WAS THE MUSICAL-WITHIN-THE-SHOW ALMOST ABOUT? | Rebeck says that Shaiman and his songwriting partner/fellow Smash EP Scott Wittman proposed a stage adaptation of a movie, while she herself was partial to an original piece involving “feathers and sword fights. Somehow between these two poles we wound up with Marilyn.”
WHAT BRINGS OSCAR WINNER ANJELICA HUSTON TO A SERIES REGULAR TV ROLE? | Huston, who plays a veteran producer who has her own reasons for backing Marilyn, explains simply, “It’s beautifully written, it’s a fantastic cast of actors, a phenomenal team of people behind-the-scenes…. I’d be a fool not to participate.”
WHAT ABOUT THAT ADOPTION SUBPLOT…? | While some critics are pointing to a B-story in which Messing’s character struggles to adopt a baby from China as a wah-wah-wahhh spot in an otherwise lively production, the Emmy-winning actress says that personal touch “was one of the things that was most exciting to me when I read the pilot.” With her enthusiasm for Smash as a whole showing on her face, she raved, “The amount of fun I’m having … is so ridiculously off the charts, it’s crazy.”
DOES EVERYONE FEEL THE PRESSURE TO GIVE STRUGGLING NBC, YOU KNOW, A SMASH HIT? | Christian Borle (Legally Blonde: The Musical), who plays Messing’s partner, says that because of its midseason berth, Smash has an inventory of several strong episodes under its belt — “It feels nice to have done so much already.” Rebeck, meanwhile, shrugs off any onus, saying, “Our task is to make great television. The rest of the story is up to other forces.”
WHAT’S THE SEASON 2 PLAN? | Rebeck says that Smash‘s 15-episode first season will “take Marilyn to an out-of-town tryout, her first really public presentation.” Season 2 would ultimately follow the production to Broadway and raise the question, “How does Marilyn fare in New York?”
DID WE READ SOMETHING ABOUT SMASH‘S MARILYN BECOMING AN ACTUAL BROADWAY MUSICAL…? | Rebeck waved off that recent reportage, saying, “What we are aiming to do right now is write a great television show. [That] is enough of a challenge for all of us.”
WHEN AND WHERE CAN I BUY THE SHOW’S COVER SONGS? | McPhee’s and Hilty’s covers of contemporary tunes will be made available every Monday, on iTunes. (Not coincidentally, Smash airs Mondays at 10/9c, premiering Feb. 6.)
CAN WE PUT THE GLEE COMPARISONS BEHIND US ONCE AND FOR ALL? | EP Craig Zadan notes — as will anyone upon seeing the actual pilot — that aside from featuring performance numbers, the two shows have precious little in common. But seeing as the Fox hit did warm up Cop Rock- and Viva Laughlin-averse TV viewers to a series that blends drama and music, he says, “We feel grateful to Glee for opening that door.”