It’s show time

First watch A smash­ing new se­ries cel­e­brates the magic and pain of Broad­way

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Graeme Blun­dell

LEG­ENDARY critic for The New York Times Brooks Atkinson once ob­served that ‘‘ no one would un­der­take the in­tri­cate, painful, gar­gan­tuan, hys­ter­i­cal task of putting on a mu­si­cal play un­less he had more en­thu­si­asm than most peo­ple have about any­thing’’.

Atkinson, who died in 1984 and is the first critic to have a Broad­way theatre named for him, would be im­pressed not only by the highly in­fec­tious en­thu­si­asm of the peo­ple be­hind the in­no­va­tive new singing-and­danc­ing pay-tv se­ries Smash, but by their skill in avoid­ing the syrupy sen­ti­men­tal­ity and soul­less op­u­lence of so many post World War II mu­si­cal films.

It’s the lat­est in a tra­di­tion of back­stage mu­si­cals but the first, I think, for TV, or at least at this rather mind-bog­gling level of pro­duc­tion. (There have been TV shows with songs, most re­mem­bered only with the aid of deep-sleep ther­apy, with the ex­cep­tion of the glo­ri­ous Glee.) Di­rected by Michael Mayer, Smash brings off that rare thing in TV drama, a pro­duc­tion and act­ing style that com­bines cin­e­matic in­ti­macy with the­atri­cal pol­ish and pre­ci­sion.

I love it, and not just be­cause I spent 30 years in the theatre and sev­eral long pe­ri­ods di­rect­ing mu­si­cals. I soon lost my en­thu­si­asm af­ter co-di­rect­ing a di­vi­sive pro­duc­tion of the hip­pie mu­si­cal Hair, fully ap­pre­cia­tive of play­wright Jean Genet’s re­mark that ‘‘ all the­atres should be yard’’.

There’s no dy­ing in Smash, but there’s plenty of suf­fer­ing in a se­ries that cel­e­brates not only the joy of Broad­way in its hal­cyon days but the heartbreak of those dream­ers and hus­tlers still des­per­ate to cre­ate mu­si­cal shows. It also gra­ciously salutes what the show’s writer, Theresa Re­beck, calls the ‘‘ pas­sion­ate and gra­cious volatil­ity’’ of show peo­ple.

It comes to us, with a won­der­ful sense of para­dox, at a time when, as one of the char­ac­ters com­plains, al­most all Broad­way houses these days are booked for re­vivals and mu­si­cals based on movies. ‘‘ Why

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Katharine Mcphee as Karen, left, and Me­gan Hilty as Ivy chan­nel their in­ner Marilyn in pay-tv’s Smash

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