“How is this different from Glee?” says Jack Davenport. “Where do I begin!” The English actor – whom many will remember as Johnny Depp’s stiff-backed nemesis Commodore Norrington in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie – knew that the question was coming and he’s prepared for it..
“Well, it’s not set in a high school where people break into song for no other reason than they’re adolescent and just have to, we don’t do covers and I suppose there’s the fact that our show operates in a realistic world of sorts. ‘Glee For Grown-ups’ has got good alliteration and it’s a nice peg to hang the show on, but I can say confidently that something like this has never been done on televison before. Each week we have one or two new songs and you start to see this musical take shape and as each piece of the jigsaw is moved into place,” he explains.
The show that he’s talking about is of course NBC’s Smash, a drama that follows the creation of a Broadway musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe, in which he stars as womanising and mercurial director Derek Wills. It debuted in the States to critical acclaim a couple of months back and has already had a second series commissioned. For fans of musicals, it’s a must-see piece of television and will be coming to Sky Atlantic later this month.
One of many recent American shows to list Steven Spielberg as ‘Executive Producer’, with a familiar but not star-studded cast in place, it has all the tools to do well in the UK. Spooks‘ Raza Jaffrey plays the boyfriend of one of the performers, Will and Grace fans will recognise Debra Messing, who plays the musical’s lyricist Julia Houston and Anjelica Huston (The Addams Family) is the project’s embattled producer. Yet the real stars of the show are those who’ve been plucked from the real Broadway.
Chorus girl Ivy (Megan Hilty, formerly of Wicked among others) seems to be a shoo-in for the part of the iconic sex-symbol after a wonderfully-tight and raunchy-as-hell performance in the series opening ensemble number, but there’s also something very special about the green yet talented Karen (American Idol’s Katherine McPhee). Broadway vet Christian Borle is also a treat as the show’s songwriter Tom Levitt.
One American critic said that “unless you’re allergic to musicals or Broadway, there’s something for you in Smash” and although the show will definitely get a lot more attention from the girls, the critique is broadly correct. The technical quality of the musical numbers is obvious even to the uninitiated and watching the whole project come together should provide a fine background to the character arcs that are outlined in the episode.
Primary among those is the clash of personalities between songwriter Tom (Borle) and Derek (Davenport) who swore never to work with each other several years ago, while a rivalry between the ambitious Ivy and coquettish newbie Karen as they go head to head for the lead part is almost guaranteed as the series develops. With Uma Thurman making an appearance as a third candidate towards the end of the first series, things should get pretty tense in the dressing room.
So will we be hearing Jack Davenport stretch his vocal chords at any point in the series? “It’s never going to happen”, he says. “I’m seriously tone deaf and my idea of hell is any kind of public singing, so it’s ironic that this is the show I have ended up on. Even at the wrap party there was a karaoke machine so I left very early. Besides we have some wonderful singers so I would have sounded even more horrendous. Even Raza, who plays someone working in the Mayor’s Office, gets to sing – but I don’t and that is a good thing”.
Smash comes to Sky Atlantic later this month.