For the past two seasons NBC gave musical theatre geeks like me a reason to tune in weekly. It was to watch what started out as a look into what it’s like to put on a big Broadway musical. As we followed the characters each week we wondered who would ultimately end up with the lead in Bombshell, a musical about Marilyn Monroe. I am talking about Smash which ended this past Sunday on NBC.
I am not going to talk about why this show is not on the air anymore because that is not why I am writing this piece. I do want to point out that no matter what you didn’t like about Smash; there are plenty of reasons why you should like the show.
First off it kept a lot of theatre types employed for two seasons. Megan Hilty as Ivy Lynn, Ann Harada as the Stage Manager, and Jeremy Jordan as Jimmy were just a few of the many stage performers seen on Smash as regulars. The guest list ranged from Bernadette Peters to Liza Minnelli to gossip columnist Michael Riedel.
But perhaps the real reason this show worked for me is because NBC had the good sense to hire musical theatre composers to write the original songs for the series. The first season’s Bombshell numbers were all written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman of Hairspray fame. One of their songs called “Let Me Be Your Star” was nominated for both an Emmy and a Grammy Award. A few other favorites of mine are “Second Hand White Baby Grand” which was sung beautifully by Megan Hilty and captured Marilyn Monroe’s vulnerability perfectly. Then we have the show stopping “Don’t Forget Me” which appeared in both seasons of the show and sung by both Katherine McPhee and Megan Hilty respectively. After hearing that song for the first time, my wife Jen turned to me and we both said at the same time “WOW!!,” it was just that good.
The second season of the show introduced a second musical called Hit List and again musical theatre composers were employed. The hot new team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul were employed along with another young writer named Joe Iconis. These three guys were responsible for most of what you heard regarding the Hit List story line along with a few other writers as well. A few standout numbers for me included Iconis’s “Broadway Here I Come” and Pasek and Paul’s “Rewrite This Story.”
Then we get to the orchestrations for the songs. Let’s face it, Bombshell sounded like it had a huge orchestra and if you look at the cd of the songs you realize that the amount of musicians employed on that show would never happen today on Broadway. Yes, I know TV likes to idealize things and I wish Broadway would hire 30 or so players, but producers today don’t think about the music in a musical. You would think that would be the first priority. On Smash they most definitely did though and Shaiman hired people like multi award winning orchestrator Doug Besterman to assist him with scoring some of the songs, which was the smart thing to do. He also was able to have the god of all orchestrators Jonathan Tunick work on the series. This proves that when musical theatre types are allowed to do what they know best you get a good product.
For example, if you listen to Besterman and Shaiman’s chart for “Don’t Forget Me,” it starts off minimally and gradually builds through verses one and two. At the bridge the orchestra comes in bigger and then the brass soars and takes us into the final verse through the finish. The result is a big Broadway song written the way they use to write them. It has a great set of lyrics with a hummable melody and a stellar big sound to it. In other words, musical theatre heaven.
Maybe Smash was not an accurate account of the way things go on Broadway but I’ll say this, it gave America a chance to hear and see what musical theatre composers and performers do best. Hit the stage and give it their all. If you are a fan of the show enjoy the music and remember all the good things that Smash gave us for the past two seasons.
Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman’s bridge to “Don’t Forget Me”
“There are some in this world who have strength of their own.
Never broken or need of repair.
But there are some born to shine who can’t do it alone.
So protect them and take special care…”
It gets no better than that. Bye bye Smash! Don’t forget thee!