Thank you for the musical, Smash

Smash finale … The cast’s send-off on stage of their so-called Tonys was demure by the show’s standards, but still heart-breaking.For many, the Tony Awards mean very little, given they honour Broadway shows we have little access to, unless brought to Australia. And even then they don’t hold the exotic promise of being in New York itself.

But that attitude ended for me with the advent of the TV drama Smash.

For those not in the know, the show’s narrative is based on the life of a musical; from the scripting of its first pages, to its development and casting, all the way to getting it into a theatre on Broadway, and navigating all the politics and hype surrounding the Tonys – and all the dramas in between.

It just so happened that I saved the very last episode of Smash, the culmination of two seasons’ worth, to watch it on Monday, the day of the 67th Annual Tony Awards, because it too ended with a Tonys ceremony.

Now before people start throwing the rotten tomatoes and commenting about how TV shows rarely depict reality, I want to acknowledge all of those arguments but put one forward of my own: it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter because what the show did do for me was get me to connect to the importance of live theatre and, for that matter, the need for any good drama.

And here lies the crux of this opinion piece. As one of Smash’s lead stars, Ivy Lynn, (spoiler alert) reflected at the end of her acceptance speech for the Tony for best performance by a leading actress in a musical, she thanked the audience “because without you there wouldn’t be any of this”.

It was a sad moment for all of us Smash fans, because the same is said of the show itself – which after slowing ratings (not entirely failed ratings) was deemed unworthy of further investment by production companies. Not when NBC watches on with envy as E! shows another rerun of Keeping Up with the Kardashians and gets more viewers for less money. That is what television has come to: the bottom dollar.

Smash explored this so-called bottom dollar greatly through the character of Eileen Rand, played by Angelica Houston, who as a Broadway producer put everything on the line – her love life, friendships, money, house, art – to see her show through. To make sure it didn’t die a common death, which according to Smash happens a lot on Broadway (I can’t verify this because I don’t subscribe to The New York Times).

Sure the musical cost millions, as did Smash, but isn’t it worth it just to have people adore your show and line up in the freezing cold just to meet its stars or buy the songs to sing in the shower? Eileen Rand certainly thought so.

I wonder what was going through executive producer Steven Spielberg’s mind when Smash was axed?

There may have been a hint from at least the scriptwriters when another Tony acceptance speech delivered on Smash pointed out the character of Kyle Bishop lived for Broadway, and how if it wasn’t for his adoration, Kyle’s dream of becoming a Broadway musical writer would never have come true.

We may not see it now, but what we put into this world shapes generations to come. I was influenced by what my parents watched on TV and the music they listened to, and they dragged me to stage shows and galleries – and the same will apply for my children.

I’m not such a big sap for this show as to claim that my (currently unborn) children may not become Broadway musical writers because they didn’t get to watch Smash, but I sure as hell don’t want them to become as fickle and frivolous as the Kardashians. (Although I will turn these mindless drones on when I’ve had a tough day at work and can’t stand for any more meaning to my TV viewing – and because, let’s face it, they’re there.)

Smash may not have won over huge audiences in Australia – it was a pay TV show and is basically an adult’s Glee – but it brought with it a style of small-screen viewing filled with music, dancing and harmless laughs, like the Marilyn Monroe films my grandparents used to watch.

This should come as no surprise because Smash’s musical, Bombshell, was about Ms Monroe and her spirit emboldened the show’s plotlines and was reflected in its characters.

And so it was that Bombshell won the best musical Tony in Smash, rather than rival musical Hit List, which became my favourite star Karen Cartwright’s musical by the end of season two.

But what I found interesting, in a moment of life imitating art, was that Karen became in a lot of ways a reflection of Australia’s own Tim Minchin. Both missed out on winning their categories for the Tonys, including the big one, best musical, but there was a line in Smash where Karen was reminded: “Win or lose, people will forever be Googling your name and seeing Tony nominee written there.”

And having seen, albeit fictionally, the amount of work that goes into even being considered a nominee, I would suggest that Minchin has also made his name very successfully in the world of Broadway.

And it was with that Smash as a show ended. Not with piercing octaves and throat-throbbing songs, but a salute to the final number expected of any Broadway show and a gentle reminder from its lead characters Karen and Ivy that “the show’s over”.

And like anyone who has ever been to a great live stage show, I just want to keep shouting “encore, encore” because I can’t bear to think that there is no more.Tonys recap

Best musical

In reality: Kinky Boots

On Smash: Bombshell

Best performance by a leading actress in a musical

In reality: Patina Miller for Pippin

On Smash: Ivy Lynn for Bombshell (played by Megan Hilty)

Best performance by a featured actress in a musical

In reality: Andrea Martin for Pippin

On Smash: Daisy Parker for Hit List (played by Mara Davi)

Best choreography

In reality: Jerry Mitchell for Kinky Boots

On Smash: Derek Wills for Hit List (played by Jack Davenport)

Best score

In reality: Cyndi Lauper for Kinky Boots

On Smash: Julia Houston and Tom Levitt for Bombshell (played by Debra Messing and Christian Borle)

Best book of a musical

In reality: Dennis Kelly for Matilda the Musical

On Smash: Kyle Bishop for Hit List (played by Andy Mientus)

Best direction of a musical

In reality: Diane Paulus for Pippin

On Smash: Never announced (presumably none of the main characters)

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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