'Smash' review: A musical show that everyone can appreciate

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smash-karen-vs-ivy.jpgYou don't have to love Broadway to love "Smash." In fact, you don't have to love musicals, or "American Idol," or theater at all -- you just have to love quality, engaging television.

The ultra-hyped NBC series, which premieres Monday, Feb. 6 at 10 p.m. (you might've seen a commercial or two), follows the mounting of a Marilyn Monroe-themed Broadway musical. Yes, there are (many) song-and-dance numbers, but the Broadway-phobic shouldn't shy away. 

This is no "Glee" -- there is actual plot and character development, even in the first few episodes we've screened. Plus, while there are a few contemporary songs thrown in the mix, most of the tunes are original to the show, integrated organically, and penned by award-winning songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman ( "Hairspray," "Catch Me If You Can").

The dueling actresses up for the Marilyn role are "Introducing" Katharine McPhee (for those of you who managed to miss out on Season 5 of "Idol" and multiple major motion pictures) and Broadway vet Megan Hilty (who starred in "9 to 5" and "Wicked" and probably needs more of an introduction than her costar). McPhee's Karen is an ingenue struggling to get her big break, while Hilty's Ivy is an established Broadway actress stuck in the chorus and searching for that ever-elusive lead role. 

It's a credit to both actresses (and the writing staff) that there's no clear frontrunner for the role -- the first episode will have you rooting for Karen, but Ivy takes a more sympathetic turn during episode 2. Their talent is apparent in their duet of the original tune "Let Me Be Your Star," a highlight of the pilot that gets us very excited for what's to come.

The rest of the heavy-hitting cast includes Anjeica Huston as the theater producer bringing Marilyn to the Great White Way, Jack Davenport as the cocky choreographer/director and Debra Messing (a welcome sight back on our TV screens) as one half of the Marilyn musical songwriting team. Her character's adoption storyline might be the show's one big misstep -- it's no "Glee" fake pregnancy, but we're hoping they drop it quickly once the show finds its groove.

You can't blame NBC for promoting the show so heavily. The struggling network has a quality show on its hands, so of course they want viewers to tune in. Thankfully, it delivers on the hype. Now we just have to wait and see if it delivers in the ratings.
Photo/Video credit: NBC