Sunday, February 3, 2013

"Smash" and Marilyn Monroe

When Smash, the television series about the production of a Broadway play about Marilyn Monroe, first aired last year, I watched the first two episodes and then stopped. The main reason I tuned it out was that I am highly critical of impersonations of Marilyn. Unless they are so spot-on it’s amazing, I’m left cold. It seemed to me that the two actresses vying for the part of Marilyn, Karen (Katharine McPhee) and Ivy (Megan Hilty), were playing a caricature of Marilyn instead of the real woman.
            After much cajoling by my ex-husband to watch the rest of the season, I relented, and I just finished watching all 15 episodes. While I still have a problem with some of the scenes and numbers involving Marilyn, there has been a progression to a more truthful representation of her.
            McPhee and Hilty are both excellent actresses and have fantastic voices, but their Marilyns are far different. Hilty looks more like the somewhat zaftig Marilyn of the late 1950s, while McPhee calls to mind the thin, elegant Marilyn of 1962. I couldn’t help thinking they should have Ivy play Marilyn in the first act, and Karen play her in the second act.
            The soapy plot lines and relationships are outlandish but fun. Jack Davenport is terrific as Derek, the director who’s charming when he’s bedding every leading lady in sight and tyrannical when faced with incompetence, as he far too often is. Anjelica Houston is great as usual as the beleaguered first-time producer trying to emerge from her producer-ex-husband’s shadow.
            Debra Messing shows acting range she never got to display on Will & Grace as the co-songwriter tortured by her feelings for, and former and present affair with, the actor playing Joe DiMaggio.
            Sometimes the writers substitute dramatic impact for common sense. Would any director allow a musical to end with the protagonist’s quiet death? Surely someone would have noticed the problem prior to the opening in Boston. And as good as Uma Thurman was as Rebecca, the movie star they bring in to play Marilyn, she looks so unlike her in face and body that I doubt any real producer would have countenanced her hiring.
            But Smash is a show that asks for a suspension of disbelief, and after watching season one, I’m willing to give it that. It’s too much fun not to!

Season Two of Smash begins with a two-hour premiere on Tuesday, February 5.


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