It’s a show within a show, a musical within a musical. And it’s as exciting and as unpredictable as an opening night on Broadway. That’s the series Smash, which starts its second season on Tuesday, Feb. 5, on NBC.
After viewing the first couple of episodes of its return engagement, it’s great to see that Smash has made some changes to heighten the backstage drama that is at the heart of the storytelling. The show is about dreamers and schemers of all ages and backgrounds, who experience the joys and heartbreaks that are part of the Broadway theater world.
At the recent TV critics press tour, the cast and producers gathered to talk about the tweaks and everyone was excited. It is a passion project for all of them, most of which can boast of impressive theatrical credits. Megan Hilty, who lit up the musical stage in Wicked and 9 to 5: the Musical, reported she has to remind her Broadway friends “we’re not doing a reality show. We’re doing a fantastic drama.”
Season one ended with Bombshell, a musical about Marilyn Monroe, having successful out-of-town previews. Newcomer Karen (Katharine McPhee) won the coveted title role over veteran chorus girl Ivy (Hilty). But producer Eileen Rand (Anjelica Huston) and director Derek Wills (Jack Davenport) are destined to pay for their past sins as they start to mount their production on Broadway.
Although their rivalry seems to have softened, the Hilty and McPhee characters are still competitors. Hilty explained, “Our relationship is on a constant rollercoaster ride. You never know if they’re going to actually be friends. We have these really beautiful moments, and then someone goes and ruins it, by sleeping with her fiancé or something like that. It will always be that way, and you’ll never know what will happen.”
In the stellar ensemble, one of the most fascinating characters is played by Anjelica Huston. I see her producer role as the force that sets all the dramatic wheels in motion. So I had to ask about her character. Huston positively glowed with enthusiasm when she told me, “I’m having a great time with an opportunity to play a strong woman who has, if you’ll forgive the word, balls. She’s a go-getter in a male oriented society.”
A dramatic twist will have her forced to deal with her unpleasant ex-husband to help facilitate getting Bombshell to Broadway this season. “For me it’s a lot of fun because I’m playing Eileen Rand on quite a few levels. Her personal life is in shambles since she fell in love with the nefarious bartender. The beauty of series television is that you find out different things every week. It’s like life and gives you the opportunity to explore a character in a way that you don’t on film,” explained the Academy Award-winning actress.
Is her strong character anything like Huston herself? “Well, bits and pieces,” she admitted. “I think she’s probably braver than I am, and she certainly puts her money where her mouth is, when she’s got money. I think maybe she’s a bit more honest than I am but, yes, quite a lot like me. There’s a certain amount of poetic license that I draw on, and I use certain template combinations of Sue Mengers, Sherry Lansing, Paula Weinstein, and all of the great female producers that I’ve known from film.”
Huston herself has produced and revealed that playing a producer is more fun “and easier than actually being in charge, as I’m sure the gentlemen behind me will testify,” she said referring to Oscar-winning producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (Chicago), along with writer-exec-producer Joshua Safran (Gossip Girl), who were there for the interview panel.
Although Debra Messing was absent due to illness, on hand with Hilty, McPhee, and Huston were co-stars Christian Borle, Jack Davenport, Leslie Odom, Jr., and Krysta Rodriguez. Plus newcomers to the cast, Jeremy Jordan and Andy Mientus were introduced. Set to play young composers who are struggling to create their own rock musical, they called the experience “a delicious fevered dream.”
Among the guest-stars set for this season of Smash are Jennifer Hudson, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Liza Minnelli, Sean Hayes, Jesse L. Martin, Harvey Fierstein, Nikki Blonsky, and Bernadette Peters. Tune in Smash, Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on NBC.