It’s show time
First watch A smashing new series celebrates the magic and pain of Broadway
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
Katharine Mcphee as Karen, left, and Megan Hilty as Ivy channel their inner Marilyn in pay-tv’s Smash