Debra Messing on 'Smash': Don't have to like musicals to enjoy it
The curtain will finally be raised on NBC's behind-the-scenes look at Broadway with the Monday debut of "Smash."
The heavily hyped musical drama has a lot riding on it as the network struggles to find its way back to its glory days under the direction of new NBC chairman of entertainment, Bob Greenblatt. The pilot episode cost more than $7 million to make, with subsequent episodes costing as much as $4 million each, as reported in Friday's Calendar story. These days the peacock network finds itself in last place among the four major broadcast competitors. It's something the stars of the series, which premieres Monday, are certainly aware of but don't express any concern about.
"It's not a secret," said Debra Messing, who stars in the series as half of a Broadway composing team, on the network's troubles. Messing had witnessed part of NBC's glory days, appearing for eight seasons as neurotic, flame-haired Grace in the sitcom "Will & Grace."
"I was just looking for a good script," she said. "I read it and the second I finished it, I called my representatives and said I have to be a part of it. I was so giddy. I mean, my first dream was to be in musical theater. I took tap dance when I was 3. I wanted to be a hoofer. I wanted to be ‘Funny Girl.’"
Messing plays Julia Houston, who finds herself being pulled back into the hustle and bustle of the big bright lights as an idea to do a musical based on tragic icon Marilyn Monroe comes to light -- despite her attempts to focus more on her family as they attempt to adopt a child. "I think that is a very big part of why I was so energized by the script," Messing said. "I did relate to Julia -- she is very serious about her creative life and very dedicated to it. Yet, she is a very passionate mother and enjoys her time at home."
"The hours are just way too hard when you’re a mother -- especially on broadcast networks because of the number of shows you do in a season," she said. "But because it was a large ensemble, I was game. When I was offered the part, in the very beginning, the discussions were about whether they would be able to carve out some time so I could be with my son. A few weeks ago, I said, ‘My son is going to be in 'Peter Pan' and it’s at 4 o’clock in the afternoon’ ... and I was able to be there. Teacher curriculum night, I might come in at 4 a.m. and work all night to make up for it. It’s a whole new thing because I’ve always been on the set all the time. I like being able to have my cake and eat it too."
Messing, like most other involved with the show, likens "Smash" to a more jazzy version of "The West Wing," in that in brings viewers into a rarefied world -- it's a comparison that some accept and others have analyzed.
"I think 'Smash' is very similar," Messing said. "It’s its own world but you don’t need to know anything about the theater or even like going to plays or musicals to appreciate it. There are enough different characters for you to invest in emotionally outside of the theater. I think there’s something for everyone. We hope people at least tune in to find out."
The verdict will come Tuesday morning when ratings figures are out.
-- Yvonne Villarreal
Photos: Top, the cast of "Smash." Middle, Debra Messing, right, as Julia Houston in "Smash." Credit: NBC