Yesterday, I had the exceptional privilege of talking to Oscar-winning stage and screen star Anjelica Huston and Broadway sensation Megan Hilty all about the new NBC musical series SMASH and their roles in it, and, while both their complete Spotlight On SMASH InDepth InterViews will be coming in full next week, we have some breaking news to share with you now that is certain to excite the many SMASH fans here on BroadwayWorld and beyond!
Right off the bat (Joe DiMaggio's, that is), the show-within-the-show based on Marilyn Monroe currently being written and rehearsed in preparation for a workshop - that also acts as the catalyst for the cast of characters on SMASH to all converge and come together to create in the first place - is titled BOMBSHELL. The season finale depicts the first Boston tryout performance of the new musical as it makes its first move towards Broadway.
Anjelica Huston confirmed to me that she indeed will be performing a solo song of her own in an upcoming episode - a wish fulfilled as expressed to me by SMASH’s own Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman back when they spoke to me about their hopes and plans for the show when it was merely a pilot in May of last year (interview here). Huston will be singing a standard first introduced on Broadway in 1938 by her own grandfather, Walter Huston, written by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson for KNICKERBOCKER HOLIDAY - the iconic “September Song”. Of course, the dramatic and powerful slow-burner has been recorded countless times, perhaps most famously performed in pop music by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. The opportunity for Huston to perform a song written for and introduced by her own grandfather is a true coup for the actress of near-incomparable lineage as far as Hollywood acting royalty goes - she shall surely score with it when the episode arrives in April, no doubt!
“I do a little number in a nightclub - and I don’t know for who else I would have done that [but for Marc and Scott]!” She related with a laugh. “They made it a really safe place, and, so, it was great to do. A lovely experience.” When asked if it was an original BOMBSHELL song or a cover, Huston added, “Well, it’s a bit of a surprise, I think, because it’s a song that has lived in my family and that my grandfather was well-known for singing. It’s a song called ‘September Song’ by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson.” “One of the great standards,” I said, as Huston agreed, “Yes. It really is.”
Additionally, Huston promises that the upcoming Bollywood extravaganza musical sequence is the biggest production number on SMASH yet - Hilty called it, in a word, “epic” - and all the central players of the drama on the show get into the action, apparently, though the sari-swathed cast are mostly backup to the stars of the song, Katharine McPhee and Raza Jaffrey (the latter of whom made a name in musicals in the West End, with a featured role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s BOMBAY DREAMS, among others, for those who may not be aware of his considerable theatre skills).
Megan Hilty was generous enough to shed some light on the dramatic maternal role Bernadette Peters plays in next week’s episode, portraying Ivy Lynn’s tough as nails mother, Leigh, and belting out a classic GYPSY song by Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”. Hilty relayed that Peters was one of her main inspirations in real life as a musical theatre actress coming of age, so to act with the legendary Broadway star on SMASH is a dream fulfilled for the appreciative Broadway baby. Hilty also hinted at a return for Leigh, as well as a potential duet for mother and daughter, should SMASH be renewed for a second season, something which seems to be an almost foregone conclusion at this point given SMASH’s hit status at NBC.
When prompted to comment on the question of if we will eventually hear the complete version of the exceptionally enticing Shaiman/Wittman ballad, “Never Give All The Heart”, first heard in the pilot episode - a Yeats homage - Hilty shared, “That is an incredible song and I will tell you that you will hear more of that song, but I won’t tell you who is singing it!" When asked about the big Bollywood number, she said, “Oh, my goodness! It’s amazing. It’s, like, epic. I think it’s the biggest thing that we’ve done on the show. Katharine McPhee and Raza Jaffrey are just unbelievable - they are the real stars of the number. We all have a little part in it, but they just knock it out of the park. People won’t be prepared for it.” So, get ready for the biggest SMASH production number yet!
What was Hilty's initial reaction when it was announced Bernadette Peters would appear on SMASH - and what is her character, Leigh, all about? Hilty recounted, “Well, I mean, for me, it’s almost too good to believe it’s true - she inspired me to go into musical theatre in the first place. I mean, I was obsessed with her from a very early age, so to have her play my mother, I still kind of don’t believe it,“ she says incredulously. Too good to be true? Hilty agrees, still awestruck by Peters, “When she came onset, I was just a complete goober!" she said with a big laugh. What happened? “Oh, you know, I was just totally star-struck - I couldn’t talk to her or relax at all.” Did Peters surpass Hilty's lofty expectations, onscreen and off? “Oh, she is just so lovely and down to earth and supportive and generous - and, she is such an incredible powerhouse performer. It was kind of like getting a little master class every time I got to do a scene with her - I just kept pinching myself!" She then took a deep breath. "Like I said, I still can’t believe it’s real because it’s too good to be true!”
Also, Hilty confirmed that notable Broadway leading men Marc Kudisch and Norbert Leo Butz will be making appearances on upcoming episodes and both shall show off their considerable musical, comedic and dramatic chops in their song sequences, with Butz performing a song from the other show-within-the-show on SMASH besides the Marilyn Monroe musical, HEAVEN & EARTH. Huston confirmed that current HOW TO SUCCEED star Nick Jonas, who appeared on Episode 4, returns for the finale, as well.
So, what element of SMASH are you looking forward to as the episodes pile up, the drama heats up and the show-within-the-show, BOMBSHELL, heads towards its big first workshop and eventual Boston tryout? Is it witnessing the awesome potential of all concerned finally fulfilled that has you hooked? Is it the enticing upcoming guest stars like Bernadette Peters, Uma Thurman, Marc Kudisch and Norbert Leo Butz, perhaps? Is it the sure-to-be-smashing Bollywood sequence and other rumored and confirmed production numbers involving HEAVEN & EARTH, GYPSY's "Everything's Coming Up Roses" (by way of Peters next week), and, of course, Huston's highly anticipated musical debut in the form of "September Song"? Plus, who will ultimately be SMASH's star Marilyn - Karen (McPhee) or Ivy (Hilty)? Or, just maybe, is there somehow room for two leading ladies in BOMBSHELL - a Norma Jean and a Marilyn, side by side? Whatever your interest, SMASH certainly has all the bases covered with the spate of episodes coming up! There's a lot to look forward to - especially the full interviews coming next week and beyond!
Catch SMASH, Mondays at 10 PM on NBC. Stay tuned for all of BroadwayWorld's exclusive coverage coming up!