NBC’s new series about the development of a Broadway musical got off to a really good solid start. They covered a lot of ground in the first episode but did a great job introducing you to the characters and setting up the initial conflicts and tensions that will presumably be propelling the series. The cast and production staff has a nice mix of theater and television veterans that should make for an entertaining mix and show that the producers are clever enough to know that you often need the big names to get butts in the seats but you keep them there by providing talent.
The plot for the show is based on the development of a musical about Marilyn (not Manson, Monroe) and the various moving parts involved in creating a show from scratch. One of my favorite lines early in the episode is a character lamenting the lack of new original work on Broadway. To paraphrase: “Why does everything have to be a movie or a revival?!” Amen sister!
One of the main conflicts in the show is going to be between the two women vying for the lead role. We have Karen (Katherine Mc Phee), the struggling ingénue with the killer voice, fabulously supportive boyfriend (for now) and belittling disapproving parents and Ivy, the Broadway veteran with a killer voice, appropriately Marilyn-esque blond hair struggling to get out of the ensemble, friend of the composer, with the dismissive mother. Okay we get it, parents feel their little girls should get “real job” or get married, let’s not beat that theme to death.
There is the writing duo of lyricist Julia (Debra Messing, playing the least annoying role I’ve ever seen her in) and composer (and friend of Ivy) Tom (Christian Borle*). The only real complication in their partnership is Frank, Julia’s obviously long suffering Broadway widower of a husband and their plans to adopt a baby. When you throw in Angelica Huston, as a producer who has had to bag her plans for a revival of “My Fair Lady” thanks to a contentious divorce, with her comes the now project-less director/choreographer Ellis (Jaime Cepero) who is loathed by composer Tom and almost immediately tries to seduce the far too levelheaded Karen and you have the start of something. Did you keep up with all that? They packed a lot of story into the first episode but the narrative was crisp and flowed well. I’m hoping the writing stays this tight throughout the series.
I was happy/surprised when I saw the Theresa Rebeck* was a writer producer on the show, her play “Seminar”, is currently running on Broadway and is quite witty and well written. Add to that Michael Myer* (AKA director/creator of the hit Broadway and critically acclaimed Tony award winning show “Spring Awakening”) as one of the directors and my expectations for this show has bumped up a notch or three.
Fear I had that this was NBC’s response to the quickly waning “Glee” phenomena seem to be unfounded. The musical numbers did not fell forced were woven into the narrative quite naturally and they successfully incorporated the old trope of “fade from reality to fantasy musical sequence in my head.” They are using a combination of existing and original music and have tapped the writing team of Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman to write the original songs. The team most recently wrote the music and lyrics for the entirely adequate show “Catch Me if You Can” but more famously co-wrote the music and lyrics for the Jon Waters classic “Hairspray.”
Like I said that’s quite a bit of heavy duty talent and with the strength of the episode they’ve really, really, raised my expectations. This is going into rotation on my TV schedule; Monday nights at 10pm. Here’s hoping it doesn’t fizzle.
(* meands they have real Broadway cred)