“Smash,” the TV series about the making of a fictional Broadway musical, takes an early step toward becoming a real-life Broadway musical on Sept. 22, with a pair of industry readings led by Tony nominees Robyn Hurder and Kerry Butler.
Hurder (“A Beautiful Noise,” “Moulin Rouge!”) plays Ivy, an actress cast in the lead role of a new musical about Marilyn Monroe, and Butler appears as Karen, Ivy’s understudy. Their characters share the names of two pivotal roles in the TV show, which also focused on the development of a Marilyn Monroe musical called “Bombshell.”
While it retains the series’ most recognizable elements, the musical adaptation of “Smash” departs in other ways with a storyline and cast of characters that are inspired by the series but not direct translations. “It’s definitely a new script,” said director Susan Stroman of the musical’s book by Bob Martin (“The Prom”) and Rick Elice (“Jersey Boys”). “It has a dramatic twist at the end of it. But you will see familiar characters.”
In the reading, Alex Brightman and Krysta Rodriguez portray a married composer-lyricist duo who are writing the score for “Bombshell”; Vanessa Williams plays the show’s producer; and Brooks Ashmanskas takes on the part of the director with Tony winner Bonnie Milligan (“Kimberly Akimbo”) appearing as his associate director. Kristine Nielsen (as an acting coach) and Milligan’s “Kimberly Akimbo” castmate Justin Cooley (as an intern) round out the reading’s cast. (Rodriguez appeared in the TV series in an entirely different role.)
The two invite-only readings, to be held at Open Jar Studios in midtown Manhattan, mark the culmination of a two-week developmental lab. Given the potential for changes in the show’s creative needs and in actor availability, none of the performers are guaranteed to be involved in the project beyond this week’s readings. Still, the cast and the roles they play nonetheless offer a glimpse into the ongoing development of a property that’s built up a cult fanbase in the years since the two-season series ended in 2013.
Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (“Hairspray,” “Some Like It Hot”), who wrote songs for the series, pen the score for the “Smash” musical, which will feature their tunes from the TV show (including “Let Me Be Your Star” and “They Just Keep Moving the Line”) as well as new songs. The musical is produced by Steven Spielberg, Robert Greenblatt and Neil Meron, who were all integral to getting the series onscreen (Spielberg and Meron as producers and Greenblatt as then-chairman of NBC).
In describing the developing show, Stroman and her producers all emphasized the stage musical’s embrace of comedy. “Steven Spielberg’s advice from the beginning was to make the stage version of ‘Smash’ very funny, and Bob Martin and Rick Elice are two of the funniest book writers working on Broadway today,” Greenblatt said.
Meron added that Stroman’s experience with comedy, including her Tony-winning staging of “The Producers,” made her a good fit for the project. “‘The Producers’ is the most hilarious backstage musical ever and ‘Smash’ feels a little bit like its cousin,” he said.
Although Stroman often works as a director-choreographer (“New York, New York,” “Contact”), for “Smash” she’s serving solely as the director with choreography by Josh Bergasse, who also choreographed the dance sequences in the series.
The two upcoming readings of “Smash” will be performed at music stands. Choreography and staging will be developed in a six-week workshop scheduled for February, ahead of a Broadway opening targeting the 2024-25 season. No out-of-town tryout is currently planned.