If you’re a fan of musical theater, you’ve probably known about Smash for months now. The NBC drama about the making of a Broadway musical has been in the works over the last year, and it is going to make a huge splash when it premieres Monday, February 6. Created and produced by Theresa Rebeck, Smash follows Karen Cartwright (Katharine McPhee) and Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty) as they both vie for the role of Marilyn Monroe in a new Broadway musical about the legendary actress, which is being written and developed on the show by characters played by Debra Messing, Christian Borle and Anjelica Houston. There are several subplots woven throughout, of course, but this major plotline is enough to get you hooked.
The show-within-a-show aspect might sound confusing, but it’s not. Following Karen and Ivy through the audition process, the musical numbers range from simple piano-accompanied tunes like a cover of Christina Aguilera‘s “Beautiful” to full-on stage choreography and costuming with original songs by Broadway vets Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. And that’s just their professional lives. Behind the scenes, Debra Messing’s Julia Houston is trying to adopt a baby with her husband, who isn’t thrilled about her diving into a new musical; Karen has a supportive boyfriend but her parents don’t think she should be waitressing to support her dead-end dreams; and Ivy is obsessed with landing a lead role, she’s willing to do anything to play Marilyn.
Together, the music and the drama create a well-written show you’ll want to watch, especially because it’s helmed by a female and includes several gay characters. On the first few episodes, there seem to be only gay male characters, but Theresa Rebeck promises there is “something for everyone” in her show, telling me that something very appealing to lesbian and bisexual women will start happening around Episode 12.
“Keep watching,” she teased. “It’s coming up.”
Rebeck said she thinks we’ll love Smash for other reasons as well. “The stories are universal, especially. At one point I thought, everybody has a dream in their heart — you know, ‘I wish I could write this novel and sell it .’ You know everyone has a big dream in them and theater people are people who took that big dream and rocked their lives in the pursuit of it and I think there’s something very human and universal and people like to watch those stories.
“And we have lots of pretty girls singing and having sex with people they shouldn’t. I think lesbians will like it: Pretty girls singing and having sex and all sorts of people having sex with people they shouldn’t. It doesn’t seem like a narrow field to me!”
Rebeck is an accomplished playwright and television writer who has also worked on screenplays. Her past work includes NYPD Blue, L.A. Law and Harriet the Spy, so Smash is definitely something a little different than what she’s done before. When I asked if she has felt any sexism playing its role in writing for theater or television, she said “I wouldn’t give either of them awards.” But she also said things are getting better.
“It’s been an issue; there’s no question it’s been a colossal issue. It is a colossal issue, still! The numbers [of men vs. women writers] are the numbers,” she said. “I’ve been outspoken about it. I feel I’ve been a coward about it at times. But now … everyone looks at the numbers and uses them as a springboard for discussion, which people have been avoiding for a long time.”
And that’s why it’s so exciting that Smash is poised to be, well, a smash. With Theresa steering the ship and strong women leading the charge on screen, NBC has a hit on its hands and everyone should (and will) be watching.
Smash will air Mondays on NBC starting Feb. 6. If you’re a Comcast user, you can catch a sneak peek of the first episode three works early using XfinityTV.com and Xfinity on Demand, beginning Jan. 16.