The Broadway-themed musical drama ‘Smash‘ debuted tonight on NBC, with a pilot episode full of drama as two talented actresses from different backgrounds vy for the role of Marilyn Monroe in a new stage show.

The pilot opens with a shot of Karen (‘American Idol‘ alum Katharine McPhee) belting out ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ in a glamorous dress, in front of the starry backdrop of a Broadway stage. Suddenly, a cell phone rings, and we realize that Karen’s Broadway stage was all in her head. Instead, she’s singing in a small, dark audition room, for three disinterested panelists. With a “Thanks, that’s all we need,” she is abruptly dismissed.

Karen storms out, and in subsequent scenes we learn bits and pieces about her life. She moved to New York City from Iowa to pursue her Broadway dreams, and she has a serious boyfriend named Dev (Raza Jaffrey) who works at the mayor’s office. Between auditions, she waits tables to pay the bills.

When Karen’s parents come for a visit, they try to dissuade her from wasting time in the competitive world of theater. “Sometimes, sweetie, dreams just don’t mix with reality,” her dad cautions. Dev scores major points with Karen and her folks when he politely replies, “That’s why it’s so extraordinary when someone like Karen follows her heart. I think she’s a star.” This guy looks like a keeper!

Meanwhile, Julia (Debra Messing) and Tom (Christian Borle) begin writing a musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe. They record demos of new Marilyn-themed songs with Ivy (Megan Hilty), a capable veteran actress who hasn’t yet been able to break through with a major part. Julia flips out when one of the demos gets leaked to the internet, but it turns out the critics love it, which only inspires the writing team even more.

The first big musical number of the episode comes when the writers show off the baseball-themed song ‘The National Pastime’ to potential director Derek Wills (Jack Davenport), with Ivy singing lead. The showstopping performance convinces Julia that Derek should direct the show.

Next, it’s a quick cut to the audition process. Even though Julia and Tom are convinced that Ivy is perfect for the role of Marilyn, Derek insists on trying out other actresses. While Ivy is stuck in the bathroom with a case of pre-audition nerves, Karen gets her shot and delivers a knockout rendition of Christina Aguilera‘s ‘Beautiful.’ Impressed by her vocals — and the fact that she was the only applicant who didn’t don a blond wig and try to look like Marilyn — the group offers her a callback for round two.

Later, Karen gets a surprise invite to visit Derek at his place, where he informs her that she’s a serious contender for the role, but she has to show a bit more ambition — and sex things up a bit. The director wants an impromptu, private performance, so Karen runs into the bathroom to collect herself, then struts out in nothing but a button-down shirt. Is she really going to give in to his advances just to score the part?

“Not going to happen,” she declares, after teasing him with a Monroe-esque rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ and pretending to lean in for a kiss. Good for Karen for standing up for herself! But will sticking to her principles cost her the role of Marilyn?

The video ends with clips of Karen and Ivy singing ‘Let Me Be Your Star‘ at their respective callbacks, leaving the viewer with no indication which actress will get the role and setting up a showdown for next week’s ‘Callbacks’ episode.

Watch the Pilot Episode of ‘Smash’

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