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SMASH is back, and its as infuriating as ever… February 8, 2013

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals, TV.
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Reviewed after screening the first three hours of the new season (NBC has telecast to the first two hours this week).

Well, Smash is back on NBC, and your like (or dislike) of the show will directly relate to a) your ability to tolerate Katharine McPhee, b) your enjoyment of musical theater as a whole, and c) your like/dislike of soap opera.

Here’s the good news — they’ve toned down the ridiculous interpersonal stories for Messing and her husband (even if it does mean we don’t get to see the excellent Brian D’Arcy James anymore this season) and sent their whining son off to boarding school. They’ve also gotten rid of the horrendous scheming plotline for Ellis (goodbye) and enigma Dev (goodbye).

The many Broadway actors that appear in the show, in cameos, in songs, in backgrounds continues to astound — witness Brynn O’Malley’s excellent little scene firing Jack Davenport. Fun, fierce, and Facebook-worthy.

They’ve also brought on the excellent Jennifer Hudson and Jeremy Jordan, and UM’s Andy Mientus to round out a new storyline. In the first three hours, the show absolutely comes to life when Hudson or Jordan sing — and crashes when the old McPhee/Hilty story comes into view.

And the show actually follows the development of a musical more this season, rather than the soap-opera-like antics of supporting characters. How will the money for the production be raised. How will media rumors hinder the development of “Bombshell”, the Marilyn musical (note to producers: Marilyn Monroe is not interesting, and the musical version already bombed on Broadway), and how will distractions of lawsuits and sexual harassment play into the development of the show.

Pasek and Paul (another feel-good UM success story!) provide some new songs that are a notch above the “everything in Bombshell sounds like it was cut from Hairspray” music of last season.

But that is where the good news ends. The show still depends on time-worn cliches more relevant to soap opera than to musical theater, and a lack of reality that is astonishing…that any single producer or artistic staff of any show anywhere would cast the lackluster McPhee in a lead role over the superb Megan Hilty is just television storytelling of the worst kind. The entire storyline rings false from top to bottom. And when you bring in a rising star like Jordan, why saddle it all down with a ridiculous badboy drug-addict subplot…and throw superstar Hudson into another mother (Dreamgirl Sheryl Lee ralph)/daughter conflict subplot. BLECH.

The musical numbers continue to be the shows highpoint — and they are better integrated into the plotline this season; but the ongoing use of near-public-domain pop songs rather than theater songs is disappointing and panders to the American Idol and Glee set.

I say put Bernadette Peters and Sheryl Lee Ralph into a room and let them duke it out.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to see my Broadway folks at work…but I am not a fan of Smash, even though I watch it just to see what jawdropping disaster befalls the cast each week — like watching a train wreck, and enjoying it for what it is. Still, the show is a notch above most primetime soap-opera fare. But that is where it stands. Its not a comedy. Its not a drama. Its a bizarre mix of soap opera and musical theater. And that’s the view from here.

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