"Smash" Review: "Please Don't Make a Joke Out of Me"
For months now, we’ve been subjected to the onslaught of TV spots and marketing blitzkriegs, alerting us that “SMASH!” was coming! “SMASH!,” a blend of fantasy and reality and Broadway! “SMASH!,” the show that will introduce us to Katherine McPhee as a STAR!, despite the fact that we, as a nation, have already been introduced and completely rejected her. “SMASH!,” the show that will show us that not only is McPhee a STAR! but a fitting Broadway diva to stand along side proper Broadway diva, Megan Hilty, star of shows like Wicked and 9 to 5. I knew going into this that this would be one of the following: bad, or so bad it was fabulous.
It genuinely did not occur to me how much I’d like it, and that “Smash” would be good.
The musical numbers, which I was certain would be exactly like Chicago’s fantasy sequences, were surprisingly seamless, and not the over-the-top distraction the TV spots made them out to be. Katherine McPhee’s voice, still too poppy and breathy for my liking in a show about Broadway (and never more obviously than in a song shared with Hilty — they’ll need to either work on her, or stay away from duets), wasn’t even a major annoyance, nor was the reaction of awe by the producers. Everything about the show was just so damn likeable, it pretty much subdued anything bad.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. There’s stuff to criticize. There are Broadway cliches a-plenty. The down ‘n out waitress, plodding through bad auditions, whose parents want her to come back to Iowa. The overworked show composer in the midst of an adoption who just can’t say no to a potential big hit. The director attempting to seduce the innocent newcomer with the promise of fame. The experienced chorus girl, desperate for her limelight, pushed out of the way by the new meat. It’s every “great white way” dream story. But, rather than try to underplay these old standards, the show embraces them. It’s self-aware without being smug, something “Glee” is incapable of being.
“Smash” is nothing like “Glee,” but given the nature of the genre, it’s what it has been and will be compared to, at least for the foreseeable future. But musical performances are where the similarities end. It lacks that twinge of embarrassment one gets watching “Glee,” that little squicky feeling you get when people are making fools of themselves (see Mamma Mia for a whole 90 minutes of this). And, most importantly, “Smash” has a likeable cast of characters. Not just characters, but actors you root for. I for one am pleased to see Debra Messing back, and cannot fully express my need to see Jack Davenport gainfully, stably employed.
Like a Broadway no-name, NBC is the underdog. Has been for years. And, dammit, I want them to have a hit. This show may be niche, but I hope it’s it. Because if they can get McPhee some actual theater training, keep the story moving, the musical numbers popping and the camp to a fun minimum, I’m in.