For the past year, like so many others in show biz (musical theatre, specifically), I’ve been following all of the hating on NBC’s nighttime musical theatre soap opera “Smash.” It’s already been described in other articles like sitting in Joe Allen’s. Or better yet, I think it’s like that catty, queeny character James Coco played in “It’s Only A Play” by Terrance McNally who famously delights about everything that happened on opening night with, “Terrible. Just terrible!” So I decided to spend a little time spreading some love.
If I worked in the Parks and Recreation department in my local community (does LA even have a Parks and Rec department?), I wonder if I would be reading the same hateful comments from my underpaid, under appreciated government colleagues. (Leslie Knope in 2016!).
Or better yet, if I worked at a local diner populated by the perfect melting pot of American stereotypes, would other broke girls write scathing blog posts detailing line by line the inauthenticity of the shows depiction of the diner business?
But best of all, and most relevant, was “Dallas” really a truthful depiction of the oil business? (Having no experience in the oil business I’m still going to go out on a limb here and say it was not a truthful depiction of the oil business.)
And so…here are five reasons why I LOVE NBC’s night time soap opera, “Smash.”
1. Bob Greenblatt. Who, you might be asking? Why isn’t his name being thrown around each episode like some of the other high-powered insiders who enjoy that privilege? Bob is the brilliant President of NBC who has worked tirelessly to make this show succeed. Other heads of networks would have pulled the show after the first season. Hell, they would have pulled it as soon as Ellis appeared…(oh, I said I was not going to hate). No one would have blamed him. But Bob has stuck by his passions (musical theater and TV) and he has continued to try to make this show work. In my humble opinion, as someone who loves TV as much as musical theater, he has succeeded. By bringing on Josh Safran he has signaled a clear interest in making this must see TV. Not must see musical theater. The new opening credits, though seemingly a silly item to mention, are dynamic, engaging and sexy. Everything the first season lacked. After three hours of Season 2, I’m already convinced we are in the hands of TV professionals who know what they are doing.
2. Jeremy Jordan. Theatre folks know how talented he is. But now TV folks are enjoying that. Better still, Jeremy is camera ready and makes a hell whole of a lot out of very little (a challenge ALL TV shows must solve). He’s very easy on the eyes and should help to attract a wider female demographic (that is NBC’s core demo). When he was sitting at the piano, in the pilot, singing the shit out of Joe Iconis’ “Broadway, Here I Come,” I really felt like I was watching a star being born. And the best part…we in the theatre know that it was really his voice and he was really hitting those notes. Can’t say the same for the cast of “Glee.”
3. Stephen Sondheim. Huh? How is the man-almost-completely-ignored-on-this-show part of this top five? I’ll tell you how. As brilliant as Sondheim is, we don’t need him on TV. He is a theatrical genius. His works take several listens to resonate for the masses. TV does not have that luxury. Aside from a recent attempt to resurrect ABC’S failed “Cupid,” I can’t think of any TV shows that got a “revival” to help appreciate what was completely missed the first time around. (Bring back “We Got It Maid”- If they only spelled it this way it would have stuck with audiences! Google it.) So thank you Stephen Sondheim for being a symbol of what TV cannot afford to achieve. “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men,” “nip/tuck,” hell even the original “Upstairs/Downstairs” are very highbrow TV. But these are in the Jonathan Larson and Jason Robert Brown ilk; smart and contemporary, but immediately accessible. Fortunately for us theatre aficionados, Sondheim does not aspire to that definition (at least I don’t think so as suggested by his entire catalogue of musicals that have never struck me as contemporary AND immediately accessible. “Company” comes closest to the former. “Into The Woods,” the later. But neither…well, just my opinon, folks)
4. Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman. Speaking of smart, contemporary and immediately accessible…I admit it. If you take the headphones out of my ears while I’m sculpting my abs, you’ll hear “Cut. Print. Moving On.” My pecs have been pumped to “Don’t Forget Me.” My cool down is calmer with “Baby White Grand.” None of the cast albums from last year, to my tastes, have provided as much consistent joy as “Bombshell.” Its brassy brilliance provides the same kind of adrenaline pump as “Funny Girl” and “Merrily We Roll Along.” My apartment is much cleaner thanks to “Let Me Be Your Star.” Marc and Scott know how to write the shit out of a song. I challenge anyone to provide me with a song from the past few years that’s as smart and exciting as “(They Just) Keep Moving The Line!” Without “Smash,” we would not be hearing their work. Musical theatre artists need as many outlets as possible to showcase their work. Those outlets are getting fewer. While we wait for Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s next theater project, we don’t have to worry they are floundering because we’ve got “Smash” to showcase their development. And thank you to Marc and Scott for not hogging all of the attention and opportunity, but instead, sharing it with the next generation. Sondheim would do the same thing.
5. Nighttime soap opera. This is a dying art form. And perhaps this will be the real reason why “Smash” doesn’t last. But gosh darn it, are they giving it the good old college try! What seemed smarmy in season one (Will Chase) is suddenly sexy (Daniel Sujanta). If anyone was surprised (or snarky) about the obvious love affair about to unfold between his character and Julia, well, then, you need to stop going to see musicals (or stop being in them) and start watching more TV. The leading character is always entangled in a love affair. This is required for the nighttime soap opera paradigm. You don’t like it? Don’t blame it on “Smash.” I’m thrilled the new writing staff has made an attempt to give Julia’s love life another shot, and this time do it right. They didn’t put her in a rehearsal studio with the admittedly hunky, but surprisingly sexless Will Chase and his great cheekbones and blue eyes. Instead, they paired her with her equal…a smart, sexy, fearless, urbane character that will help us to see the same characteristics in Julia. Previously, we learned about Julia by her rather tepid counterparts (husband, lover and son…all wisely gone!). We want to root for the leading character. As this season progresses, assuming we get to see the entire season, I look forward to what dramatic obstacles Julia has to over come. Admittedly, there might be one leading lady too many in “Smash” (and Bob Greenblatt’s favorite might be the weakest), but I’d rather have three leading ladies in a love triangle than two broke girls in a diner any day!
And so…five reasons why I love “Smash.” I have other reasons, including the hilarious blogs of hate that have spawned from this show. I hope all the haters keep watching and writing their clever little ditties. That will assure ratings to keep the show on the air. But things are not looking good after the .9 rating with viewers 18-49. I think this might have to do with audiences not knowing the show was back on the air after it premiered and then didn’t show up again for two weeks. And that brings me back to reason number one why I love “Smash.” Bob Greenblatt. Your move, good sir.
Andrew Barrett (02/21/13)