"Smash," the mid-season NBC replacement TV show all about the process of creating a new Broadway musical, had what the producers said was the first screening of its pilot episode before "real people" on Monday night in Chicago. Brian D'Arcy James, one of the show's stars, was at the screening, held at a South Loop movie theater.
I'll have more to say about "Smash," written by Theresa Rebeck and premiering Feb. 5, in a few days when I've seen a few more episodes, but here's some of what emerged Monday night.
- The basic premise involves the creative process behind a new Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. The characters include the songwriting team (played by Debra Messing and Christian Borle), the bitterly divorcing producer (Anjelica Huston), the bad-boy British director (Jack Davenport) and the two stars competing for the lead role: Katherine McPhee plays a just-in-from-Iowa newbee and Megan Hilty plays a woman with Broadway baggage trying to escape from the chorus. You also see some of the civilian partners of these players, including Brian D'Arcy James as the husband of Messing's character and Raza Jaffrey as the the boyfriend of McPhee's ingenue.
- Each episode, the producers said, will feature two musical numbers drawn from exisiting pop and Broadway material and one original song from the "Marilyn" musical (although the pilot seems to have two original songs). Songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman will end up with 16 songs from this fictional musical by the end of the first season, presumably allowing them to take the show-within-a-show to the real Broadway, if this TV show hits.
- The show is entirely shot in New York, often in Midtown apartments and in and around Times Square, and on a soundstage in Long Island City. About 11 of the 15 episodes are already in the can.
- The target audience, clearly, is older than the audience for "Glee," which the producers said had made "Smash" possible by changing network attitudes towards shows with live music. Nonetheless, there was a heavy teenage presence at the screening. It's also worth noting that, unlike "Glee," "Smash" uses its music in a more musical-theater style - in other words, with a narrative context rather than spontaneous eruptions.
- Will Chase and Bernadette Peters are among the names showing up soon (Peters will play Hilty's mother). Most people sing in the show.
- The first season will end with the show staging its out-of-town tryout in Boston. The second season, assuming there is a second season, will take "Marilyn" to Broadway.
- Michael Mayer, who directed the pilot, is helming about three of the episodes. Along with Steven Spielberg, major producers include Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, both of whom were in Chicago Monday night.
- Various Rialto personalities play themselves, including New York Post columnist Michael Riedel.