Break, the actual extremely hyped NBC crisis developed by Pulitzer Prize–nominated Theresa Rebeck (Workshop) as well as professional maker Steven Spielberg originates, fairly suddenly, close to an informal recommendation to create a music concerning the existence associated with Marilyn Monroe.
Axioms about what is and is not Marilyn pervade the uneven dialogue—understandable, given the task at hand—but the obsession with this icon from a group of seasoned industry vets strains credulity. “You know what she said in her last interview?” Julia asks her beleaguered husband after he begs her to take a break from Marilyn the Musical and show business, and focus on their plans for adoption. She said, ‘Please, don’t make a joke out of me.’ ” Save a touch of Manhattan neuroticism, Messing plays Julia as an almost foil to the sarcastic Will & Grace role for which she is best known.
After all the scrutiny that’s been devoted to Norma Jean—including a film about a week in her life that garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress this year—one wonders if it’s still possible to be held rapt by her myth. It turns out it doesn’t matter—there’s singing and dancing to watch! Full of costumed men snapping in unison and lifting chairs with ladies in shimmering ball gowns, the performance sequences remind us why people love going to Broadway in the first place: It feels good. With all the crisp execution but none of the schtick of Glee, Smash’s musical numbers, (by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the guys behind Hairspray and Catch Me If You Can), make us feel like we’re sitting in the Winter Garden Theater instead of in our living room. Songs, such as the particularly catchy “Let Me Be Your Star,” amp up the side plots: Eileen’s determination to make Marilyn the Musical in spite of her ex-husband’s commitment to her financial ruin; Karen’s attempts to balance her dashing political boyfriend with the demands of auditions. Though there are overwrought moments and clunky transitions (flute music occasionally whisks us from one scene to another, especially odd when sex is involved), Smash’s well-intentioned goal is to break down the third wall and reveal the truth that builds the artifice. We’re reminded that when the lights come up, there are practice rooms and sweatpants, along with plenty of plotting, heartbreak, and good old-fashioned hope.