NBC's highly anticipated musical drama, starring Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty, premiered Monday night

By Aaron Parsley
Updated February 06, 2012 11:00 PM
Mark Seliger/NBC

Smash has finally arrived!

After months of heavy promotion (and access to the pilot on iTunes), NBC’s buzzed-about musical drama that goes behind the scenes of a Broadway show premiered Monday night – but will it be a hit? Caution: Spoilers ahead.

In the first episode, we meet the players – struggling actors, conflicted writers, an egotistical director and an ambitious producer – involved in launching a musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe.

“Everyone’s doing her now,” says Debra Messing’s character, writer Julia Houston. “There’s a Marilyn movie, diaries. You know what there’s an app for the iPad now? You blow on it and the skirt goes up.”

That Marilyn is everywhere doesn’t stop Julia and her writing partner Tom (Christian Borle) from recording a demo of a song with veteran chorus girl Ivy Lynn, played by Megan Hilty. When Tom’s assistant Ellis leaks the recording online, the wheels of the Marilyn musical are suddenly in motion – and all of Broadway is buzzing.

Producer Eileen Rand, played by Anjelica Houston, is interested in the project if only to prove to the Broadway community that she’s still in the game despite a costly divorce from her wealthy husband. She sets her sights on big-shot director – and renowned womanizer – Derek Willis, played by Jack Davenport, who happens to be on bad terms with Tom.

One of the first orders of business is to cast the lead role – and Ivy, with her blonde bombshell looks and impeccable vocals, is a top contender. But then there’s Karen Cartwright, played by American Idol alum Katharine McPhee. She’s a struggling young actress working as a waitress, whose boyfriend Dev (Raza Jaffrey) is more supportive than her parents, who fly in from Iowa to pressure their daughter to give up her dream and come home.

Karen nails her audition, performing Christina Aguilera‘s “Beautiful,” but she’s more Norma Jean than Marilyn. After being invited to Derek’s apartment late one night, she vamps it up and sings “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” in a sexy private performance that ends just shy of a kiss on the lips.

When Karen and Ivy are both called back for the role, the first episode of Smash has its 11 o’clock number as the women make their way to the audition.

Who will get the part? And more importantly – is Smash a hit? The show, which is executive produced by Steven Spielberg, returns next week (Mondays, 10 p.m. ET) to NBC as the journey from an idea to opening night on the Great White Way continues.