Brian d'Arcy James is a Tony-nominated, Broadway musical theater veteran, but he doesn't have a singing role in NBC's musical drama "Smash."
And he's OK with that. Mostly.
"I do get a little tinge of jealousy when everyone gets to sing," he told me before a special Chicago screening in January of the series premiere. "But what are the odds of getting to do a television show ... in New York City about Broadway?
"This is who I am. If they had me as a mute in the back I wouldn't care. I'm perfectly happy."
James doesn't get stuck in the back by any means. He plays Frank, a stay-at-home dad married to successful musical theater lyricist Julia (Debra Messing). Frank, a former chemistry teacher, wants to go back to work at the same time that he and Julia want to start adoption proceedings.
Julia, however, has become obsessed with doing a musical about Marilyn Monroe, and that threatens Frank's plans in a big way. Their story shows how one family member's life in musical theater affects their loved ones.
James teased that despite Frank being outside the theater industry, the show's producers have found clever ways to have him sing. So yes, fans will get to here him sing at least a little bit.
James grew up in Michigan but started his professional performing life in Chicago after attending Northwestern University. He was thrilled to be back in Chicago for the screening--both his sisters and his brother live here--but also to introduce locals to "Smash," which will take viewers behind-the-scenes of a big Broadway production and show how it is brought to the stage.
Or, as James said, "Smash" reveals "the secrets of how the sausages are made."
Also attending the screening were "Smash" executive producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, who said they wanted "Smash" to be more than just a musical TV series.
"The show really rests on our characters. It doesn't rest upon the making of this [Marilyn] show," Meron said, adding that James' character brings family drama to the series. "We want characters that audiences can relate to, that they fall in love with, that they root for. It really was very much constructed about our actors, our characters."
Two of the main characters, played by Katherine McPhee and Megan Hilty, are vying for the role of Marilyn in the musical production. I asked James if watching the two actress characters trying to get a big Broadway role brought back memories of his early years in New York.
He mentioned a scene in the pilot when McPhee comes out of the subway station in Times Square.
"How many times in my life did I do that on my way ... to stand in line for an open call," he said. "That's true grit. That's the beginnings of desires and dreams ... And that's what this show is about."
"Smash" premieres at 9 p.m. Feb. 6 on NBC. (All apologies to James for his red eyes in the video interview. I blame the guys with the harsh spotlights who were standing behind us at the event at Kerasotes Showplace ICON Theater.)Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times