Musical 'Marilyn' may not sing in 'Smash'

In this image released by NBC, Megan Hilty In this image released by NBC, Megan Hilty portrays Ivy Bell, left, and Katharine McPhee portrays Karen in the new NBC series "Smash." Photo Credit: AP

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REVIEW

REASON TO WATCH It is hard to resist snappy, interesting theater people talking trash and emoting sincerely while trying to put together a new musical for Broadway. With Steven Spielberg, NBC and creators with barrels of theater credibility, "Smash" works hard to stay true to the individuals -- and all the soapy cliches -- of this romantic, cynical little New York world, while shoehorning in enough pop-cover songs and wish-fulfillment fantasy scenes to relax audiences looking for "Glee."

The big cast is appealing, especially Christian Borle and Debra Messing as the big-time songwriting team and Angelica Huston as a producer in a bad divorce. And the show looks great, except for a ludicrously airbrushed Times Square that could have been shot in a mall or a Toronto soundstage.

MY SAY The pilot smartly sets up the plot, with plenty of name-dropping and, for insiders, a good game of spot-the-New-York-actor. But the next three episodes offer diminishing returns, mostly because all these sophisticated people are salivating over their progress in making a truly schlocky musical about Marilyn Monroe.

Does no one know that, aside from "Gypsy," biographical musicals are almost always terrible? The old-fashioned songs (by the creators of "Hairspray," yes, but also this season's flop "Catch Me If You Can") honor the '50s Marilyn without an original voice. The lyrics are larded with lyrics about "dreams" and "stars." The choreography is generic. And it strains credibility that, from the theater's amazing talent pool, one of the two competitors for this iconic role is played by Katharine McPhee, the wholesome ingénue with the pop voice who was runner-up on the 2006 "American Idol."

BOTTOM LINE The good stuff will keep me watching, at least for a while, and fill the actor-employment void left when "Law & Order" shut down. As for reported plans to bring "Marilyn, the Musical" to Broadway, the lyrics aren't the only things dreaming.

GRADE B-

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