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Marilyn Monroe Eyes Broadway in ‘Smash’; Creepy ‘River’: Review

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"Smash"
Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty in "Smash," based on a production about Marilyn Monroe. The show airs Monday on NBC at 10 p.m. New York time. Photographer: Mark Seliger/NBC via Bloomberg

Feb. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Real diamonds, Marilyn Monroe once cooed, must be worth their weight in gold.

“Smash,” NBC’s musical drama following the creation of a Broadway extravaganza about Monroe, isn’t quite a diamond. Cleverly blending behind-the-scenes, show-biz drama with the thrill of a reality TV competition, “Smash” dazzles just as much as it needs to.

The real-life theater talent behind “Smash” could easily fill several large tables at industry hangout Angus McIndoe.

Playwright Theresa Rebeck created the series and wrote the pilot. Actor/playwright David Marshall Grant is a producer, along with Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (whose credits include the film of “Chicago”), and composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (who wrote the score for “Hairspray” and three good numbers here). Broadway’s Michael Mayer directed the first three episodes.

With a pool like that (plus producer Steven Spielberg), “Smash” has the look, feel and sound of Broadway authenticity.

But “Smash” also has its share of footlight cliches, from the beautiful singing waitress dreaming of her big break, to the cruel Bob Fosse-like director hoping to give it to her. The pilot episode has just enough edge -- and acting talent -- to keep the schmaltz from drowning the show.

Sex Goddess

Debra Messing (appealingly less ditzy than her “Will & Grace” persona) plays Julia, half of a successful Broadway songwriting duo with the killer idea of a musical about the Hollywood sex goddess.

Megan Hilty (“9 to 5: The Musical”) plays Ivy, one of two actresses vying for the title role. As curvy and voluptuous as the real thing, Ivy is a seasoned trouper and by rights a shoo-in for the role.

Until, that is, Karen (Katharine McPhee from “American Idol”) catches the eye of the nasty-tempered, libidinous director Derek Wills (Jack Davenport). Then it’s war.

“Smash” also has some fun with Michael Riedel who, as the actual scoop-happy and appealingly scabrous Broadway columnist of the New York Post, is described by one character as “a Napoleonic little Nazi.” Judging by the first episode, the show’s anything-to-win fierceness could inoculate it from insufferable “Glee”-ness.

“Smash” airs Monday on NBC at 10 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***

‘The River’

ABC’s paranormal thriller “The River” sinks some genuinely creepy moments into a muddy pool of tired scare tactics.

Using the exhausted device of “found” videotapes to document the mysterious disappearance of wildlife TV emcee (Bruce Greenwood; think a less chipper Steve Irwin), the show sends the host’s wife (Leslie Hope) and adult son (Joe Anderson) boating down the river in search of dad. It’s “Lost” on the Amazon.

A TV crew is also on board, filming every supposedly spooky encounter with hoodoo-voodoo river spirits.

Given the number of lenses on deck, you’d think we’d get a good look at the ghosties, but the first two episodes rely mostly on the swirling camerawork and panicked videotape testimonials (“This place is trying to kill us!”) that have defined the genre since “The Blair Witch Project.”

“River” co-creator Oren Peli directed the first of the four “Paranormal Activity” movies back in 2007, when supernatural candid camera was still effective.

“The River” airs Tuesday on ABC at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: **


What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Greg Evans at gregeaevans@yahoo.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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