Monday, April 1, 2013

Friday Dance Party: The National Smashtime

It's a double header this week, for reasons which will soon become clear.  Both clips come from that stylish disappointment, Smash
This week's Dance Party features big numbers from both these gals, as they vie to land the role of a lifetime.  Both these ladies have strong pipes, which Marilyn Monroe surely did not (in her few musical appearances, she was likely to slide off key at any time).  But such verisimilitude would have been unworkable in a series concerning a Broadway musical, so we pretend that Monroe could sing.
The trailer for the series, which made the rounds a year and a half ago, was dynamic and exciting.  The show looked to be, in a nutshell, Glee for Grownups.  Perhaps I should not have connected it with that other musical series, as, like Glee, Smash has not lived up to anybody's expectations.  I continued to follow the show throughout its first season, watching it dismantle itself.
There was constant trauma behind the camera.  Creator Theresa Rebeck, left, refused any attempts to help her run the show, though her second-in-command, David Marshall Grant, was an experienced hand at it. She insisted the private life of Debra Messing's character, based on her own life, remain central.  It did not gel with the rest of the story.  Meanwhile, Spielberg chose two minor characters as his favorites, pumping up their importance in an already bloated storyline.  The show collapsed under its own schizophrenia.
This second season, I've been taping the episodes, but have not watched one yet. 
Debra Messing is the biggest TV name
attached to Smash. Rebeck saw herself in the
character, and wrote much household drama for
her which added nothing. Messing's frumpy
wardrobe drew derision from critics, who
grew tired of her layered look. You never saw
Messing without a scarf roped around her neck.
It is no coincidence that Rebeck herself is never
seen without such a scarf.

I'm sure I will, especially considering this second season appears to be the show's last.  The ratings have been worse than disappointing, and the network recently announced the show is moving to TV's Graveyard, Saturday night, for the remainder of its season.  This is the kiss of death to almost any series.
Messing and Christian Borle play the musical's writers.  He wipes the screen with her.
I have felt about Smash the same way I felt about Glee when it was new.  I watched the thing out of a feeling of obligation, because the show was so unusual for weekly television, and it had, at least on the surface, resonance with my own life. 

Oscar winner Angelica Huston is giving an
oddly compelling performance as the producer.
One Facebook wag wonders when she began
looking like the Joker. But I applaud her
willingness to embrace her maturity.

Smash, like Glee before it, quickly degenerated from a strong opening to episodes which were downright cringe-worthy.  Every once in a while, a moment would pop up which was excellent, full of life or wit or panache, but so many more were dreary and uncomfortable.  These two shows are among the most inconsistent TV programs I have ever watched.
I find the musical numbers in Smash to be the highlights, as opposed to the numbers in Glee, which are the lowlights.
Back to Smash, from which this week's Dance Parties are plucked.  The show was created by Teresa Rebeck, who had some experience with TV writing but is primarily known as a playwright. 

A running gag has producer Eileen tossing her cocktail into her ex-husband's face. That face belongs to actor and Pulitzer prize winning playwright Michael Cristofer (The Shadow Box).  Season one provided great fun for theatre fans, who could pick out stage vets in every episode.  The show is shot in New York and makes fine use of the local theatrical talent.
Rebeck had complete control of Smash's first season, and the show floundered under her leadership. 
Shortly after premiering on Smash, Christian
Borle won the Tony for Peter and the Starcatcher.
He remains a bright spot on the show's canvas.
He gets his own Dance Party here.

I was not aware, at the time, of all the trauma happening behind the cameras, but the chaos created by Rebeck has been well documented.  She left the show after the first season was concluded, but apparently her replacement has been unable to repair the damage Rebeck's iron fist had inflicted.  As I mentioned, I have yet to watch a single episode this year (but I know I will, as I feel obligated to support a show which, at least ostensibly, purports to illuminate the world in which I live).
Megan Hilty shines in all her numbers.

Smash concerns the creation of a new musical for Broadway.  Our two ingenues spent most of the first season battling for the leading role in said musical, about Marilyn Monroe.  One of our gals, Megan Hilty, has become a particular favorite of mine on the show, but apparently, not of her boss. 
Jaime Cepero as Ellis, the duplicitous personal
assistant, was the most hated character on Smash.
But Spielberg loved him, so his role was enhanced.
I understand the role does not appear in season 2.

One of Smash's executive producers (and the one upon whose name the show was picked up) is Steven Spielberg, and he was displeased with Hilty from the first day.  All this was reported in the papers, so poor Megan had to go to work every day knowing that one of the most powerful and respected talents in show business wanted her fired from her job.
Smash is populated with actors with serious Broadway cred.  Megan Hilty, left, created the role in the stage musical 9-5 which Dolly Parton played in the film.  She spent time in Wicked as well.
The second of our stars this week is a gal named Katherine McPhee.  I had no idea who this person was, though she receives billing over Hilty, who has numerous Broadway, TV, and film credits to her name.  Turns out she was a contestant on American Idol, so no wonder I had never heard of her.  I find her dull as friggin' toast.
I was excited to see one of my favorites, Jack Davenport, in the Smash cast.  I have to admit, I much prefer him in the above film, as the sweetly clueless lover of The Talented Mr. Ripley.
Let's get to this week's Dance Parties.  Smash's musical numbers are far superior to those on Glee, but perhaps I'm biased as they tend to have a more theatrical flair. 
Jack Davenport's over-the-top performance
as the maniacal director is disconcerting. A
new musical requires a real conciliator at its
helm; Derek Wills is anything but. I have to
remind myself Smash is not a documentary.

Plus many of the Smashy songs are originals, written by Broadway talents.  Both these clips display one of the strengths of Smash:  the show intercuts rehearsals of various numbers from the Marilyn Musical with glimpses of what the finished product might look like.  I find this very, very fun.  The choreography for Smash's first season won the Emmy.
These are some of the casualties of season one. Guest stars Jennifer Hudson and Sean Hayes, among others, have populated season 2, so these guys had to go. I was particularly sorry to see Will Chase (lower left) get the axe, as I have been his fan since seeing him in Kiss of the Spider Woman.
Our first number features my personal favorite, Megan Hilty (who had a birthday last week, consider this her card). 
I caught Hilty in concert at the Kennedy
Center last year. She was dynamite.

In the context of the show, the number is being performed as sort of an audition by the director/choreographer, in order to see if there is any interest in moving forward with a workshop of this new musical.  Play ball!

This next clip features Hilty's rival for the role of Marilyn, the aforementioned McPhee. 
Katherine McPhee.  Who the hell is she, and
why is she starring in this series?

If memory serves, this number was used as her character's final callback for the role of Marilyn.  I find her only adequate, but I actually like the material here very much.  It's a catchy tune.  Once Smash ends its run, I expect we will continue to hear good things from Megan Hilty, while I expect Katherine McPhee will sink into relative obscurity.