Alumnae Team Up for a Really Big ‘Smash’

Debra Messing (third from left), shown in a scene from NBC drama series "Smash," is flanked by costars Anjelica Huston and Christian Borle.
NBCU Photography
Debra Messing (third from left), shown in a scene from NBC drama series "Smash," is flanked by costars Anjelica Huston and Christian Borle.

Two Brandeisians, actress Debra Messing ’90 and playwright Theresa Rebeck ’83, M.F.A.’86, Ph.D.’89, have joined forces on an ambitious new television series that’s causing viewers and critics alike to stand up and cheer.

The Los Angeles Times has called “Smash” — whose premiere after February’s Super Bowl drew big ratings — “a triumph,” and proclaimed that “Rebeck and her team have managed to capture the grand and sweeping gesture that is musical theater and inject it with the immediate intimacy of television.”

“Smash,” a dramatic series centered around a fictional Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe, was creating enthusiasm long before its premiere, thanks to a big-name roster. Rebeck serves as the show’s creator and executive producer. Steven Spielberg is an executive producer. The cast features Messing, Anjelica Huston, and “American Idol” finalist Katharine McPhee in key roles.

Adding to the hype were the producers’ decision to film on location in New York and excitement over the show’s intimate view of backstage life, with all its hope, heartbreak, elation and bitchiness.

Although she told an interviewer for theatermania.com that she grew up wanting to sing and dance on Broadway, New York-bred Messing (“Will & Grace,” “The Starter Wife”) is not cast as one of the two divas vying for the role of Marilyn. Instead she portrays Julia Houston, a lyricist who is in the process of adopting a child. “The part of Julia was the best one for me,” Messing said.

Rebeck, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright (for “Omnium Gatherum”), brings the gravitas of the legitimate stage to the project. Her comedy “Seminar” has been whispered about as a possible dark-horse nominee for a Tony Award this year. Other contributors with Broadway credentials include director Michael Mayer, whose audacious remake of the 1960s musical “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” closed in January, and the composer-lyricist team of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, who won Tony Awards for “Hairspray.”

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