THE "SMASH" REPORT: Season Two, Episode 3, Or, Transitions Are Hard

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20 Feb 2013

Christian Borle and Debra Messing as collaborators Tom and Julia.
Photo by Will Hart/NBC

 

One of the accurate aspects of "Smash" is the idea that scripts of musicals are notoriously difficult to write. It usually helps, however, for a show to have the solid foundation of story — even if its source is a novel ("Show Boat," say), a play (The Matchmaker or Pygmalion, say) or a film ("Billy Elliot," say). Original musicals without preexisting source material are supremely rare — Bye Birdie Birdie, Brigadoon and The Music Man come to mind, and even those were based on preexisting cultural kernels (Birdie inspired by Elvis going into the Army, Music Man by the Midwestern roots of author Meredith Willson and Brigadoon by a German story about a mysterious disappearing village, though librettist Alan Jay Lerner claimed that he didn't know the tale).

You might think a director like Derek or a producer like Eileen (Anjelica Huston) might say to Julia and Tom, "Give me a play first, not an outline." Still others have argued that librettos should just be coat racks onto which you hang songs — it's called a musical, not a bookical, right? (The late Peter Stone's 1776, drawn from American history, or Alan Jay Lerner's My Fair Lady, drawn from George Bernard Shaw, are two examples of books that sing in their own right. If you don't know these properties, please, please, please seek out their excellent film versions, which are faithful representations of the stage musicals.)

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