'Smash' offers song and dance, plus a dash of Marilyn Monroe

Posted: February 05, 2012

The big-ticket item for NBC in 2012 is - drumroll, please - show tunes.

Seriously. They won't let me make this stuff up.

The network has sunk some serious cash into Smash, a series built around the mounting of a major Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe.

What a refreshing concept for a play! No one has exploited Marilyn's legacy in the last, let's see, 15 minutes.

Smash, which airs at 10 p.m. Mondays on NBC10, is executive-produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (Chicago) and by Steven Spielberg, who has become either the busiest man in Hollywood or is now simply franchising his name. Judging by the quantity and quality of his current TV projects - Falling Skies, Terra Nova, this, The River - which debuts Tuesday on ABC - I'm leaning toward the latter explanation.

The roster of characters on Smash includes the songwriting team (Debra Messing and Christian Borle), the producer (Anjelica Huston), the director/choreographer (Jack Davenport), and the two young women competing to play the Blonde Bombshell (Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty).

Fine cast, although some of them seem too pleased with themselves, as if they're engaged in a Masterpiece Theatre gem. And the Manhattan flavor in Smash surpasses anything on TV - yes, even Gossip Girl, which, by the way, opened its heavily promoted royal-wedding episode last week with a big Marilyn Monroe musical production number. Great minds . . . .

It's nice to see McPhee getting a showcase for her talent. She kind of dropped off the map after finishing second to Taylor Hicks (oh, the ignominy!) on American Idol in 2006.

Smash spares no expense on the production numbers and tries to make the song-and-dance creations look sexy and suggestive. In fact, they appear distressingly dated, like something out of Damn Yankees. Even the scenes away from rehearsal play rather stagy.

Obviously, Marilyn: The Musical can't be fast-tracked to Broadway, or Smash would be over in a month. There have to be delays and detours and lengthy excursions into the characters' personal lives.

But I warn you that however far astray an episode may go (hello, guest star Nick Jonas), several times an hour you will still experience that sickening sensation you get when you feel a song coming on.

If musical theater gives you goose bumps, congratulations. You just got a front-row seat. If it doesn't enthrall you, Smash will strike you as almost unbearably tedious and pretentious.

Contact television writer David Hiltbrand at 215-854-4552, dhiltbrand@phillynews.com, or @daveondemand_tv on Twitter. Read his blog, "Dave on Demand," at www.philly.com/dod.

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