Smashing Marilyn

| April 26, 2012 | 0 Comments

Editing a book about Marilyn Monroe that is due out in August, I was naturally pulled into watching Smash. This is the potential land of milk and honey for anyone enamored of Adaptations, right? It’s a television adaptation of a Broadway production adapting the life of the icon of adaptation herself, Ms. Marilyn Monroe. It could be heavenly, especially for somebody, like me, who spent years producing and directing musical plays. So I watch, always expecting to be carried away. And I am.

But I am impelled by revulsion rather than by ecstasy. The writer in me is absolutely appalled by the banal dialogue, the ridiculous plots, the absurd characterizations that try to pass themselves off as real-life portrayals of authentic people. Yet I continue to tune in,  the proverbial passerby transfixed as a truck careens toward a pedestrian on a busy street. I can’t avert my eyes, hoping that the inevitable will be obscured by an avenging deus ex machine, but alas, knowing it must steam roll on to lower and lower depths of catastrophe. In some ways, the wreck is forgivable. After all, it’s a television series about an old-style Broadway Show, the kind we loved before Stephen Sondheim brought some sense to the American musical, when lovely young women in New England were beaten by their lovers but sang, “He’s your fella and you love him, that’s all there is to that.”

We are not supposed to think about the rusting aluminum under the brilliant sheen of a life on the Great White Way any more than we are supposed to see the bleeding underbelly of Julie’s adoration of an abuser. Even the troubles these actors and song writers and directors and producers experience are sort of glamorous, the way Billy’s mistreatment of Julie is kinda sexy.

The one authentic element of the show is the talent of the performers in this expensive piece of fluff, though some of the veterans can come off as poseurs. Uma Thurman stands out as a real star, but Angelika Huston cannot seem to rub the fake smirk off her face for a moment, and nothing she does or says feels honest; Debra Messing can’t seem to find a consistent voice, and her expressions, too, seem fixed, predetermined, silly. But luckily — perhaps the reason fans keep coming back — the other cast members are truly talented. Megan Hilty(Ivy), Christian Borle(Tom), Leslie Odom(Sam) are particularly good, and they feel like people I would enjoy watching on Broadway, would cast in my own productions; as Dev, Raza Jaffrey, seemingly just another pretty boy in a nondescript boyfriend role, was surprisingly tantalizing in his Bollywood number.

Then again, as good as Kathrine McPhee (Karen) is, she is a rock star, not a Broadway performer. Everything she sings feels over-mixed, over-augmented. While the woman is a power house, I don’t enjoy her rendition of the show-style tunes. And as director Derek Wills, Jack Davenport continually underwhelms, full of bluster and bravado but lacking significant bullocks as an actor or as the director he pretends to play.

Oh well, if you want anything like authenticity, read the book I’m editing. More on that another time. Meanwhile, I think I’ll work on a piece about Pete Seegar.  Now he’s authentic!

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Category: Features