What Makes A Hit & What Makes A SMASH
"It's a hit!" they proclaim.
"Yeah, but what made it that way?" is our reply.
What is the recipe for success?
Furthermore, what separates a hit from a smash?
The answers to these questions and more await ahead on the new musical/comedy/drama series SMASH, starting in January 2012 on NBC.
This is a mere taste of the method behind the magic of SMASH.
Culled from as A-list a list as you are ever likely to acquire - Steven Spielberg, Robert Greenblatt, Craig Zadan, Neil Meron, Michael Mayer, Theresa Rebeck and Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman onwards - SMASH is the adult answer to riveting dramatic musical entertainment coming with heart, laughs, unforgettable characters and some of the biggest twists this side of the starry stages on the Great White Way. Oh, yeah, and those hallowed Broadway halls, too. Plus, SMASH will provide a great new opportunity to showcase the unbelievable talent on display on the stages of Broadway and Off-Broadway and beyond, particularly given the fact that it is shot in New York and it is being cast by the biggest casting director on Broadway, Bernie Telsey. Consider the theatre-centric casting LAW & ORDER times seventy six (trombones). All of New York's (already excited) theatre community is the talent pool from which the stage of SMASH shall be set. And, what exactly is SMASH about, anyway? Well, SMASH is all about Broadway and what makes a musical tick - from the very inception of the show's idea by the songwriters, through writing, rehearsals and the road; all the way to the big Broadway opening where dreams are made - and nightmares born - on one magnificent, momentous night. As viewers, we are taken inside the ticking clock of the show and we experience each and every one of the multitude of machinations enacted by everyone from the stars - Marilyn Monroe, and the actress playing her, Ivy; and, more importantly, her alternative, Karen - to the overworked director (Derek), harried songwriters Tom and Julia, and the speculative and cutthroat producer behind it all, Eileen.
Putting it all on the line eight times a week certainly has its fair share of sacrifices - emotionally, socially; and, most especially, romantically. How can puppy dog eyes hold sway for very long with this many sequins and showgirls on display and drawing focus? More than all of this, what about the gorgeous new girl on the scene with stars in her eyes - and is she, too, ready to yield a knife fit for an unassuming back? What exactly is she willing to give to make it? And so the same can be said for all concerned. How many hits can you take before you break and how much trash will you take out to make your one shot hit dead on the bulls-eye and finally win yourself a big, fat Broadway smash? And, anyway, what good is a bombshell if your show is a bomb? We shall most definitely soon see - starting in January on NBC.
A flippant remark and observation leads to a fruitful idea which forms the basis for the viral YouTube video hit that acts as the indicator that the team behind the smash hit musical on SMASH has got something truly special on their hands - but who to sing it? Cue the ruthless producer looking for a fresh hit and a hot property with new talent and all the pieces start to fall into place - and, at the same time, personal lives start falling apart. Onstage and off, the drama is dictated by the needs of the show at the center of everyone's lives - and it may take more than any or all of them altogether can feasibly offer forth. Once the show is cast - or, almost - rehearsals begin and the cast and crew go out of town. What - and who - will survive that? After the tumultuous trek implicit in the road to Broadway those remaining eventually arrive in New York. As we soon learn, having all it takes is just the very first step in the song and dance to making it actually happen in a real way, in the real world - on Broadway and far, far beyond. After all, to get a smash you have to take a lot of hits.
Backgrounds & Bio's
SMASH is stocked with the best of the best, starting at the very top with head of NBC Robert Greenblatt and executive producer Steven Spielberg. NBC Chairman Robert Greenblatt is best known for his television work, executive producing such diverse entities as HBO's hit series SIX FEET UNDER, as well as THE HUGHLEYS, EVE and ONE ON ONE. Additionally, he also produced the recent Broadway musical adaptation of 9 TO 5 starring SMASH star Megan Hilty in the role made famous by Dolly Parton in the film version. SMASH is his first musical television series and the ideal opportunity for Greenblatt to lend his theatre acumen to a television project with all the ingredients needed for a big hit - on Broadway, in Hollywood and beyond.
Speaking of the necessary ingredients for success in the entertainment industry, more than perhaps any other figure in modern moviemaking, producing and shepherding of new talent and projects is Hollywood titan Steven Spielberg. JAWS to RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK to E.T. to SCHINDLER'S LIST, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, MUNICH and beyond, Spielberg is the father of modern moviemaking and the master of an entire generation's most beloved and best-known films, in addition to his peerless charity work and dedication to preserving - and making - film history. SMASH is his first fully in-depth and involved association with an all-out musical project where he will be this hands-on and, therefore, SMASH is in and of itself one of the most exciting musical prospects on any stage anywhere in the world by his association alone.
Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are the producing and curating talents behind the 2002 Academy Award Best Picture-winner CHICAGO, as well as HAIRSPRAY and THE BUCKET LIST, in addition to their Broadway producing work such as the recent revivals of PROMISES, PROMISES starring Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth, as well as HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING starring Daniel Radcliffe. Zadan/Meron also boast considerable musical TV cred as the best in the business of television musicals, a reputation coming from their years of work for ABC/Disney and executive producing LIZA'S AT THE PALACE, Rob Marshall's ANNIE starring Kathy Bates, A RAISIN IN THE SUN starring Sean Combs, multi-Emmy-winning Judy Garland: ME & MY SHADOWS, CINDERELLA starring Brandy and Whitney Houston, THE MUSIC MAN with Matthew Broderick and Kristin Chenoweth and the record-setting TV hit GYPSY starring Bette Midler, as well as the hit Lifetime series DROP DEAD DIVA. The accomplished team are currently in production on the big screen movie musical version of FOOTLOOSE. SMASH marks Zadan/Meron's re-teaming with Tony-winning HAIRSPRAY composing duo Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman and their presence on this project alone points towards an unlimited potential for success on SMASH.
Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman won well-earned 2003 Tony Awards for Best Score and Best Musical for their work on the now-international sensation known as HAIRSPRAY, based on the John Waters film of the same name, and parlayed the show's enormous success into an equally rapturously-received film version in 2007 starring John Travolta and Michelle Pfeiffer. No strangers to the film and television worlds, Shaiman has also scored his share of Hollywood hits in the last twenty years - such as: SISTER ACT, MISERY, DOWN WITH LOVE and THE BUCKET LIST; and, he co-wrote the Academy Award-nominated songs for SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT. Shaiman/Wittman's most recent stage venture is the new musical CATCH ME IF YOU CAN based on the Steven Spielberg film of the same name, now running on Broadway. Next year they are premiering their musical adaptation of Roald Dahl's CHARLIE & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, directed by Sam Mendes. Judging from their track record, they fit splendidly well in the SMASH universe.
Having worked extensively in theatre, television and film, Theresa Rebeck is the essential playwright to pen the drama of a backstage story such as that in SMASH given her pedigree. She has written for a number of television series, such as: NYPD BLUE, LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT, L.A. LAW, DREAM ON, and CANTERBURY'S LAW. Her film work includes scripts for HARRIET THE SPY, GOSSIP, and CATWOMAN. Known most of all for her stage work, Rebeck's impressive output encompasses over forty plays including MAURITIUS, THE UNDERSTUDY, THE SCENE, THE WATER'S EDGE; and the musical drama OUR HOUSE, based on the music of British rock band Madness. She is also a novelist, having recently published THREE GIRLS AND THEIR BROTHER. SMASH is Rebeck's opportunity to bring all those worlds together and make the ultimate meta-musical entertainment - and, baby, does she deliver!
One of the hottest directors on Broadway, Michael Mayer is the recipient of a 2007 Tony Award for Best Direction Of A Musical for his work on the groundbreaking emo rock musical SPRING AWAKENING by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater. Going back to 1994, his professional career began in a splashy way with the direction of the national tour of the Pulitzer Prize-winning ANGELS IN AMERICA by Tony Kushner, and he has followed that up with Broadway productions of dramas - AFTER THE FALL; UNCLE VANYA; ‘NIGHT MOTHER - to musicals - YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN; TRIUMPH OF LOVE - and feature films - A HOME AT THE END OF THE WORLD starring Colin Farrell and Robin Wright; FLICKA starring Tim McGRaw; as well as GRADUATION. His musical THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2002 and his most recent stage venture was the Green Day rock musical AMERICAN IDIOT, currently being prepped for a feature film adaptation also slated to be directed by Mayer. SMASH provides the ideal opportunity for Mayer to meld his affection for iconic and inventive musical storytelling with a complex plot worth musicalizing and bringing it all to three-dimensional life as only a stalwart stage talent like him could possibly attempt to bring. So, now, with SMASH: consider it brought.
Debra Messing plays Julia, one half of the central songwriting team who has the bright idea to bring the story of Marilyn Monroe to the stage, prompted by an off-hand remark by her writing partner, Tom (played by Broadway veteran Christian Borle). Messing is one of the best-known and most-loved television stars of the new century, having scored multiple awards for her work on the groundbreaking situation comedy WILL & GRACE, as well as loved for her work on the hit USA television film series THE STARTER WIFE. She has also appeared in lead and featured roles in many noted feature films, including Woody Allen's HAPPY ENDINGS, THE WEDDING DATE, LUCKY YOU and THE WOMEN. SMASH marks the grand return of the NBC icon to her home network - and her place as the tent-pole attraction of SMASH to a national audience is reason in itself to celebrate.
Academy Award-winning actress, director and producer Anjelica Huston has appeared in feature films for over forty years and her unforgettable turns in roles ranging from THE LAST TYCOON to THE GRIFTERS to BUFFALO ‘66 to THE ADDAMS FAMILY (as Morticia Addams) to THE DEAD and PRIZZI'S HONOR - both directed by her esteemed father and the latter for which she received the Best Supporting Actress Oscar - to Woody Allen's CRIMES & MISDEMEANORS and MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY; to her work with Wes Anderson on THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS and more; to the recent CHOKE, THE DARJEELING LIMITED and WHEN IN ROME. She is also a noted television actress, producer and director known for her work on LONSOME DOVE, AND THE BAND PLAYED ON and IRON JAWED ANGELS, as well as RIDING THE BUS WITH MY SISTER, which she directed. SMASH is Ms. Houston's first foray into a musical entity and the prospect of her belting out a show tune is almost too delicious to resist given her exceptionally expressive and nuanced talent.
Broadway leading man Christian Borle - who plays the other half of the songwriting duo at the center of SMASH - has appeared in a number of varied and impressive guises in a string of Broadway shows beginning with FOOTLOOSE and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at the start of this century, followed up by featured roles in THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (directed by SMASH-helmer Michael Mayer) as well as in the also Tony-winning Best Musical SPAMALOT (directed by Mike Nichols), and has recently scored in leading roles in LEGALLY BLONDE and MARY POPPINS. Borle compliments Messing in a rich and revealing way, their personalities onscreen playing off each other beautifully and effortlessly exuding the palpable, combustible energy of the great creative teams of the past, present and, surely, the future - such as Shaiman/Wittman, the esteemed songwriters behind the songs of SMASH.
Playing the long-suffering husband, Frank, of the female half of the songwriting team that acts as the heart and soul of SMASH is Broadway star Brian d'Arcy James, most recently seen as the title character in SHREK, and best-known for his stunning turns in plays and musicals on Broadway and across the country, as in the musicals NEXT TO NORMAL, DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, THE APPLE TREE, TITANIC and SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS as well as in dramas like TIME STANDS STILL and THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE - in addition to an ever-busier film career. With his booming and commanding baritone timbre and his lovable, teddy-bear-like looks, he is set just right so as to tug at our heartstrings - especially when he blasts his big Broadway belt. SMASH is finally his shot at the big time beyond Broadway.
Speaking of big, big voices - newcomer Katharine McPhee. First revealed to many on AMERICAN IDOL as a vocalist - where she made it all the way to the very end of the competition, coming in second place - her pop music career soon began skyrocketing thanks to her collaboration with legendary producer/songwriter David Foster - particularly her flawless take on the WEST SIDE STORY anthem "Somewhere" that Foster first brought to #1 with Barbra Streisand. SMASH is McPhee's first major chance to sing, strut and show-off the Herculean talent that Simon Cowell and company crowned on IDOL as among the best in America - and act a little, too. On SMASH, with these superbly crafted songs and complex and engrossing story from Broadway's best as her fodder, McPhee has the whole world waiting as a rapt audience for her rousing stage debut.
Alluring and golden-voiced Megan Hilty is best-known on Broadway for her brassy take on Dolly Parton's iconic role in Joe Mantello's stage adaptation of 9 TO 5 - coincidentally, also produced by NBC Chairman Robert Greenblatt - and in the international hit Oz-themed musical WICKED, also directed by Mr. Mantello. With the bravura vocals she can most assuredly bring, and the va va voom voluptuousness she can serve up, clearly she is the bombshell who puts it all out there for all to see on SMASH - but, will her character, Ivy, still play Marilyn come opening night on Broadway? An ALL ABOUT EVE-level rivalry is brewing between the characters of Karen and Ivy and they may not be through with each other until knives have been sharpened, barbs have been launched, blood has been spilled and a brand new Broadway diva has been crowned. Batter up, Joe DiMaggio.
As this gasp-inducing list clearly illustrates, the team for SMASH is the best and brightest on Broadway and beyond and that is surely a credit to the consistently exceptional casting by Bernie Telsey. Starting with Jonathan Larson's Pulitzer Prize-winning rock musical RENT in 1996, Telsey has had a hand in casting most - if not all - of the biggest Broadway hits in the last fifteen years, ranging from plays to musicals to special events and beyond. Bringing the same pedigree and expert eye for talent that he brought to the original casts of international sensations such as RENT, WICKED, HAIRSPRAY, LEGALLY BLONDE, MEMPHIS and ROCK OF AGES bodes very well for the veritable Who's Who of Broadway stars available to him given the fact that SMASH is filmed on location in New York City, the heart of Broadway. With the most powerful casting director on Broadway endlessly exciting prospective casting possibilities await!
Additionally, the nine executive producers behind SMASH are Steven Spielberg, Theresa Rebeck, Darryl Frank, Justin Falvey, Craig Zadan, Neil Meron, Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman and David Marshall Grant. Grant is a particularly notable addition to the producing team given his start as an actor in the original companies of BENT and ANGELS IN AMERICA, who is also known as a playwright for works such as SNAKEBIT, CURRENT EVENTS and PEN, as well as for his duties as show-runner on ABC's BROTHERS & SISTERS starting in 2009, where he has worked as writer/producer since 2002. It seems that on SMASH it is pertinent that even the executive producers have theatre backgrounds - and justifiably so.
Covering Broadway, Hollywood and far, far beyond - what a team! So, place your bets! Honestly, how could you possibly score anything less than a grand slam with this group at the plate, up at bat?
While the heady mix of collaborators behind and in front of the camera should prove to be the absolute most exciting and engaging representation of the building of a Broadway show, the final ingredient of the collaboration still remains the foremost most vital unknown entity: the audience. SMASH is serving up everything for everybody from thrills to chills to laughs to tears and songs about them all - but, Broadway babies looking for adult-themed entertainment will assuredly fall the fastest and hardest for this all-out love-fest of the best the entertainment industry has to offer with the finest material and the prime place where to do it. Only in January will we get our first full taste!
So, until then, like all of us at BroadwayWorld, dream the impossible dream and keep dreaming on in anticipation of SMASH - some dreams do come true, after all. Some dreams even come up like roses - like SMASH seems to be doing. By the dozens. It all cannot come to full bloom soon enough.
Here she is, boys. Here she is, world...