Why You Should Watch 'Smash'
Not sure if you guys have heard, but NBC has a new show called Smash that's premiering tonight. Yeah, they haven't been promoting it much or anything, there haven't been a billion ads everywhere for months and months now, so it's understandable that some of you might not have heard about this show. But the point is that, yes, NBC has a show called Smash, about putting together a Broadway musical, premiering tonight at 10pm, and you should watch it. Really, you should!
Plenty of people have already seen the pilot, as it's been on iTunes for the past week or so, and many folks have reviewed it already, so you might be sick of hearing about this show today. But, well, we don't care. It's important that you watch this show, because it stands for a few things that are pretty important things to stand for. Important, perhaps, in a very relative or specific sense, but still important nonetheless.
First off, theater needs you. And it just might need Smash. The show, from popular playwright Theresa Rebeck, is not about the scrappy world of off-off-Broadway or even, gulp, regional theater (for that you'll have to consult the fabulous Canadian show Slings & Arrows). It's about the big business of the Broadway musical. So if there is a 99 percent-1 percent relationship in theater, this is firmly about the 1 percent. But still theater as a whole, whether we're talking Spider Man or a one man show in Kansas City, could always use a new infusion of audience members — people in the industry often bemoan the graying of the American theater audience, which can be easily seen in person should you attend most any play these days. It's a sea of geezers, and while geezers are great and all, there need to be a few healthy generations of theatergoers behind them. Theater is an increasingly struggling industry but still, we think at least, vital to the nation's cultural health. So if a show like Smash can become a hit, then there's maybe renewed interest in seeing Broadway shows, which, when people go back home after a New York trip, can breed new interest in seeing regional shows, and thus new regular ticket buyers are born! Yeah, Glee has already done something similar, but for a slightly younger demo than this show is targeting, and anyway that show is less specifically about theater than Smash is. Sure Smash is not always terribly realistic about how the theater biz actually works, and yeah it concerns the mainstreamest kind of mainstream show, but still this is a situation where trickle-down economics could actually work. You don't even need to pay attention! Just turn the TV to NBC and let it play while you do whatever else. Your cousin who does community theater will thank you. (With free tickets to Carousel! Just pretend you're out of town that weekend or something.)
Another reason to watch the show, related to the theater pleas, is that Smash is a determinedly New York production. Which means lots of theater actors can get a paycheck as day players or guest stars or whatever else while staying in New York and doing plays (or waiting tables) at night. We're not saying that this is going to be some kind of Law & Order-sized employment machine -- very few shows require the constant amount of new guest stars that those shows do/did. But there's still something important about it filming in Brooklyn and hiring locally. Sure Debra Messing, an NYU grad, went Hollywood years ago, and Anjelica Huston is a daughter of L.A., but Megan Hilty, Christian Borle, Jaime Cepero, Brian d'Arcy James, Will Chase, Wesley Taylor, etc. etc. are all New York actors who now get to work in town. Not to mention the scads of chorus boys and girls who populate the pilot episode, and theoretically pop up throughout the series. A show about New York actors should employ New York actors, and this one does.
Oh, and you should watch the show because it's good! It's not going to change anyone's life or solve television or save NBC or anything, but it's a fun and sparkly little hour. We wish they hadn't burdened Messing's lyricist character with a boring adoption home story, or pushed Borle's score-writer character to the background (musical theater in New York is hugely gay, a gay character needs to be a capital-L Lead here), or done the tired old asshole (straight) British director thing, but they are initially trying to cast a wide net and snare as many people as possible. So if they have to go a bit big and unnuanced in the beginning, that's fine. We don't doubt that the show will get both knottier and looser as the season goes on — the pilot offers at least that much promise. Hilty and American Idol's Katharine McPhee make a charming light/dark pair of rivals, Messing is (despite ourselves) neurotically winning, and Huston seems to be having a good time in her role as a steely producer. This is a soap with a little smarts that also happens to be about the making of something, about process and expectation and failure and achievement. We have a sense that once we get to the completion of the musical (which might actually go to Broadway, depending on the show's success), it will be quite satisfying indeed. We could be wrong! We were wrong about Glee after the first three-quarters of the first season, after all. But something nagging inside us insists that Smash is going to remain an engaging, if a little (or a lot) fluffy, story of creativity, competition, and ambition. It's a New York story, yes. It's a theater tale, true. But there's also something universal, of course! We hope enough people find that connection and that the show becomes, if not an outright smash, at least a stirring success.