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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The separate worlds of the on- and off-Broadway stages collide in the form of "Smash," NBC's new musical TV show that mixes elements of shows such as "Glee" and "The Voice."

The show centers on Karen Cartwright ("American Idol" alumna Katharine McPhee), a struggling actress who endures one disappointment after another, determined to find the role fit for her on the Great White Way. While Cartwright tries to find her first role, chorus girl Ivy Bell (Megan Hilty, an established Broadway performer) looks for her own time in the spotlight. Equipped with tremendous voices and curvy physiques, the duo ultimately become rivals who vie for the lead in an upcoming showstopper.

The new show-stopping idea? "Marilyn: The Musical," a flashy revue of the life of Marilyn Monroe. The latest brainchild of playwrights Julia Houston (Debra Messing of "Will and Grace") and Tom Levitt (Christian Borle).

Add legendary producer Eileen Rand (Academy Award-winner Anjelica Huston) and loved-yet-hated director Derek Wills (Jack Davenport) and the "Marilyn" train is in full steam. Filled with impromptu demo sessions and preliminary workshops, the innovative idea collides into the lives of all involved, at times threatening to collapse the personal lives of both the actors and artists.

With a line of executive producers including Craig Zadan and Neil Meron ("Chicago," "Hairspray") and Steven Spielberg, "Smash" packs a powerful punch behind the scenes. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the musical masterminds behind "Hairspray" and "Catch Me If You Can," work double-duty as executive producers and composers/lyricists for the show's original songs.

In the pilot, airing Feb. 6 at 10 p.m., the gradual growth of the Monroe ideal embeds itself in the minds of both the creative and stage-set teams. Karen, in limbo between audition runs and waitressing shifts, thinks the blonde bombshell is her big chance to finally make it in show business. Ivy, tired of spending her nights upstage, begins a metamorphosis into the persona of the voluptuous vixen. Julia, struggling with balancing her work and family, becomes entranced by the idea.

The male counterparts complement the leading ladies with a mix of unabashed bravado and nervous indecision. Derek is argumentative and stubborn, but what he lacks in compromise he makes up for in knowing talent when he sees it.

Both sides of the cast come together in the quintessential place for all show folk: the audition room. With the creative team seated behind a table and the hopeful performers nervous and determined before them, the two worlds crash with the opening chords of "Let Me Be Your Star," an original song set as the audition piece. Both Karen and Ivy, dressed in curve-hugging, classic Monroe sex-appeal shine in their own way.

The pilot episode is far from perfect; there are points where the story seemed to drag or became too cliche (i.e. Derek inviting Karen back to his apartment late at night to offer some "advice" before callbacks).

Yet it is scenes like the audition scene that overcome the obstacles, just like the real world of theater.

With a solid foundation and an intriguing storyline, "Smash" is poised to become a new medium for lovers of both the stage and screen to enjoy.

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