Smashing, darling

source: latimesblogs

I went into the pilot for Smash already wanting to love it.  I used to adore Glee, but that ship has sailed (yes, yes, the Michael Jackson episode wasn’t half bad, but it doesn’t erase the pain of so. many. pointless. episodes.)  I felt that a fresh, more adult take on the whole musical scene would be just what the doctor ordered to cure my Glee disease.  And holy Lea Michele, I was right.

Smash is definitely a “grown-up” version of Glee:  No camp, actual adults, real sex, people taking everything seriously.  I laughed a couple of times, but this is by no means a comedy.  This is much more musical drama.  I was really pleased to see it was created by Theresa Rebeck, who wrote the fantastic play Seminar that I got to see last fall in NYC.  It also has the names “Steven Speilberg” and “Anjelica Huston” stamped on the credits, insuring us the highest levels of quality.

Going behind the scenes of the making of a broadway musical is obviously not everybody’s cup of tea, so if that description doesn’t stir somethin’ up, this series is not for you.  Me?  I enjoy the hell out of a show, and appreciate the insane hard work and dedication that goes into putting it all together.  By the end of the pilot you’ve watched as songs are written, learned, and at least one musical number is choreographed and performed.  Not too shabby.

The cast was enjoyable overall.  I forgot how much I like Debra Messing.  She’s Julia, one half of the duo writing a musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe, while juggling her family and an impending adoption.  She’s harried yet smart, and as always, a joy to watch.  Anjelica Huston is the producer, snatching up the production after the current show she’s devoted herself to was lost in her high-profile divorce.  Huston’s Eileen wants Derek Miller (Jack Davenport) to direct the show, but Julia’s partner Tom has worked with the Brit in the past and the guy’s such an ass, he wants nothing more to do with him.  I need to mention here that I’ve loved Davenport for a loooooong time, specifically in the show I really loved but the whole rest of the universe loathed, Swingtown.  Here he’s scathing, sporting some scruff and that delectable accent, and BOOM!  I’m fanning myself on the couch.

The two gals vying for the role of Marilyn are Katherine McPhee, the former American Idol contestant, and Megan Hilty, who actually has been on Broadway (Glinda in Wicked, which I do love).  McPhee’s Karen is a midwesterner (there are several groaner midwestern jokes, but, being one myself, I can’t even argue with them because they’re true), trying to make it in the big city, going to auditions and always getting looked over.  She’s beautiful and does have an excellent voice, but I don’t see the “it” factor that Derek and Eileen shit their pants over.  Personally, I like Hilty’s Ivy for the role much better.  It’s all part of the drama though, the powers-that-be butting heads over who should get the role.  I wish McPhee had a little more charisma, but maybe she’ll grow on me as the season goes on.

While it wasn’t quite as magical as I’d hoped (the commercials airing today were a tad silly – “this is the series everyone has been waiting for”, “gloriously entertaining” – yeah, I mean, okay… ), pilots are just first glimpses into new worlds.  I highly discourage ever making up your mind about a show after watching one measly episode, least of all the PILOT.  Smash‘s first episode was a strong entry, featuring solid performances, catchy original songs, and lovely shots of the Big Apple.  I’m signed on for this season, that’s for sure.

~Annie

My Homework Was Never Quite Like This

Hello, dear readers!  I went to New York City for the first time in my life last weekend (AHHHMAAAZZIINNNGGG, and why my sis’ has been posting for me), and I had the extreme pleasure of going to see an actual Broadway play, the new and currently-in-previews “Seminar.”

I could actually write two reviews for this play:  One being an actual discussion of the plot, acting, and writing/directing.  The second being the experience of attending.  The sounds, smells, the way everything FELT, and the huge life-gasm that happened afterwards when I got to talk to each cast member and get their autographs.  I’ll try to integrate these two pieces. 🙂

“Seminar” is a new play from Theresa Rebeck.  Not being a drama buff (despite my two years spent performing as every possible maternal character in the drama club in high school –  shout out to “Little Women” and “Father of the Bride” – and LOVING EVERY MINUTE OF IT!), I don’t follow playwrights, and had never heard of this woman before.  Turns out, she’s very well-respected and accomplished, having written many plays, received awards, and even penned some episodes of TV shows.  Oh, and she’s also from Ohio.  🙂   And let me tell you, girl can write.

The story is about a group of four young writers, all dealing with different issues, and in different stages of their careers.  They meet at one member of their group’s huge, rent-controlled apartment in NYC (a hilarious conversation regarding this particular piece of property), to participate in a private writing seminar they’ve all paid to be a part of, with the legendary writer and professor, Leonard.  Leonard rips most of them apart, sleeps with some of them, and in his way, complements and validates them, giving them the courage to continue on with their chosen paths.

My date for the night (who knew nothing about this play going in) looked at me as the curtain rose and said, “I LOVED that.”  I have to concur.  The dialogue is crisp, biting, and whip-smart.  The tone was hilarious, truthful, (sexy!) and poignant, all at once.  The cast was MARVELOUS.  I haven’t mentioned this yet but Leonard is played by the legen-wait for it-dary, god-among-men, Alan Rickman.  He’s every bit as good (and more) as you’d think, if you have a pulse or enjoy films.  There’s a bit of Severus Snape in there (he is a scathing Professor after all), but this is still a completely different character.  Leonard is a womanizer, but he’s honest.  If he tells you your story sucks, it does.  Rickman speaks every line with contempt, experience, and almost tragedy.  It feels cliche to say that he was “mesmerizing” to watch, but that’s the best description I can come up with.  When he was on stage, you couldn’t take your eyes off him.  The four young writers (who all played off Rickman with skill and force) are played by Jerry O’Connell (verrrrry funny as the pretentious up-and-comer), Lily Rabe (a standout for sure, she was wonderful as a woman who is still finding her way, alternating between not knowing if she should even be a writer at all, and knowing, without a doubt, that she can and SHOULD.  She was fantastic.), Hamish Linklater (the “Debbie Downer” of the group – conflicted and slightly depressed, terrified to even share his work with Leonard, his story arc had me almost teared up) and Hettienne Park (the sex-kitten, if you will, of the group.  She’s not afraid of who she is or what she might have to do to get ahead …. she was fresh, and funny, and adorable).

I loved the sets – they were colorful and made me feel like I was in the apartment with this fun, interesting group.  I laughed, a lot (although I must admit, not having gone for a liberal arts degree or being a professional writer, lots of jokes went over my head – the whole audience would bust up at a reference to particular writers I’ve never heard of, so I felt like an uneducated, mid-western fraud, but this was more the exception than the rule regarding the humor portrayed).  I was transfixed by the actors and their way of speaking, delivering these marvelous lines that Rebeck conjured up.  I was enamored with the intimate Golden theater (which honest to God reminded me of my high school’s theater, but I mean this in the most comforting, lovely way possible).  I was PSYCHED UP to be in New York City, at a Broadway production, sitting 10th row center.  (!)

I must interject here and just note for this story’s sake that someone’s CELL PHONE ACTUALLY RANG during a long, critical, profound soliloquy from Rickman.  To whoever didn’t turn their phone off (despite being told multiple times before the show started to SHUT IT OFF) – “I will count to three. There will not be a four.”  And I hope you ROT IN HELL.  It was embarrassing as shit, to sit in the presence of a screen/stage LEGEND, and hear your stupid fucking shitty Nokia ringer go off.  There was a low grumble heard throughout the audience, and I literally covered my face, I was so mortified.  Unsurprisingly, Rickman didn’t miss a beat.

Once the show ended, we went right outside and I planted myself in the autograph line.  I can’t believe that these actors do this, but they all did, and were so unbelievably gracious and polite.  I told each actor how much I enjoyed the show and their respective performances (I also mentioned to Lily Rabe how much I am loving her on American Horror Story, which she really seemed to appreciate!), but when Alan Rickman (who is truly my favorite actor, portrays one of my all-time favorite literary characters, and who resides on the isle of my celeb crushes (that’s right, don’t hate)) walked up to me, I blanked out.  All I could think to say was that he was my favorite actor, it was my first time in the city, and this night was amazing.  He looked me right in the eye, SMILED, and nodded approval.  I cannot fathom that this happened to me, but there it is.  (After this summer’s Loki experience, my sister pointed out that she and I each got to interact with the British villains of our dreams.  What a lovely turn of events!)  I was trying not to be a douchebag or too pushy/aggressive, because that was happening all around me.  Some gal even told him that “Like, Love Actually is like, my favorite movie EVER, but you’re my LEAST FAVORITE CHARACTER IN IT! HAHAHHAHA.”  I mean, seriously?  Rickman was kind and respectful to us all, which I consider a feat, because some people are just insane.  (I’m talking to you, lady-who-pushed-her-kid-in-front-of-him-and-snapped-a-pic-even-tho-we-were-told-we-couldn’t-take-pics-WITH-him)

I’m sorry I wrote a book on this night, but it was truly one of the standouts of my entire existence.  If you are in New York City this fall/winter/spring and feel like seeing a funny, thought-provoking, unique little story, portrayed by an actual legend and sparkling new talent, go see this play.  You will not regret it. (Said in the awe-inspiring perfection that is Alan Rickman’s voice)

– Here’s a great New York Times article about the play, and a video of a collection of scenes, in case anyone is interested.

~Annie