You Look Smashing, Darling

By Lacob, Jace | Newsweek, January 30, 2012 | Go to article overview

You Look Smashing, Darling


Lacob, Jace, Newsweek


Byline: Jace Lacob

Marilyn Monroe gets the Broadway treatment in writer Theresa Rebeck's addictive new series.

Fifty years after her death, the mention of Marilyn Monroe conjures up familiar imagery: that whispery voice, the platinum hair, her vulnerability. From Michelle Williams's recent embodiment to yet another reissue of Monroe's last photo shoot, she's still inescapable, and always exerting a gravitational pull on popular imagination.

NBC's upcoming series Smash is many things--a backstage drama, the brainchild of creator and executive producer Theresa Rebeck--but it's also a loving paean to Broadway, and to the enduring legacy of Monroe.

Following actors, directors, producers, and writers as they scramble to produce Marilyn: The Musical, the premise of Smash smacks you across the face--why hasn't this been done before? The result is intoxicating and imaginative, The West Wing for the Broadway set. This could be more than a show--it smells like a franchise. Future seasons, should Smash become a hit, would tackle other musicals.

Steven Spielberg is on board as an executive producer, but the real secret weapon is Rebeck, an award-winning playwright, who has a foot on Broadway this very moment with Seminar, starring Alan Rickman. She's no stranger to television, having written for NYPD Blue and L.A. Law, but cop and lawyer shows don't exactly align with her Broadway roots or her own creative ambitions.

Yet Rebeck was at the top of a very short list of writers that the producers felt could tackle the subject matter. "There aren't many Aaron Sorkins out there who have an actual voice," says executive producer Craig Zadan. "She does, and you see it when you see her plays. It's so specific and that's what this needed."

Smash brings a rarefied world to life through a panoply of diverse characters. "Even though there's a lot of pain and difficulty, I wanted to tell the story of how these people put so much of themselves on the line for this very ephemeral art form," says Rebeck. "People in the theater have a great passion for the beauty of making that magical thing that's just going to evaporate as soon as it's finished. The dream is big and the lives are rocky."

Struggles, angst, and drama bleed from the characters' messy work lives into their messy home lives. In her return to network television post-Will & Grace, Debra Messing plays a lyricist attempting to adopt a child. American Idol runner-up Katharine McPhee and Broadway staple Megan Hilty duke it out to play Marilyn. British actor Jack Davenport portrays a slimy director, a homophobe whose presence throws others into dizzying panic.

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