In the third episode of "Smash," we're three weeks away from the start of rehearsals for the workshop of Marilyn the Musical, says director-choreographer Derek Wills, and only half the book is written — and only eight songs. Maybe sex is distracting him (and the other creatives) from being productive. Derek is getting a good amount of action, visiting his leading lady, Ivy, at her place nightly. He claims leaky gas pipes and construction work prevent him from inviting her over. (Likely story. Didn't Sir Henry Irving use this same excuse back in the gaslight days?) An insecure Ivy asks if they could get together to "work on" crafting her performance as Marilyn. His "joking" that they're already working on the part, horizontally, does not sit well with her. He then assures her that he'll have his assistant put her on the calendar for a work session. When a lover books a meeting with you through an assistant, it is not going to end well. Ivy wonders aloud to fellow Heaven On Earth chorus girl, Jessica: Would I have gotten the part if I didn't sleep with Derek?
(In contrast, Karen Cartwright, the newcomer who lost the role to Ivy but has been invited into the ensemble of the workshop, says this about a weekend trip to Iowa for a baby shower: "For two days, I'm not even gonna think about Broadway!" Really? In losing the lead, the she's not fully grateful for the workshop chorus part until she has to explain its importance to her parents, who hope that her day-job will be held for her. Karen demonstrates throughout the episode that she's nothing if not a good sport.)
For now, anyway, Ivy has the title part in a musical that seems Broadway-bound, and her apartment is respectable enough to bring home a powerful director. No rats. No bedbugs. Nice façade out front. She's not struggling, financially. We suspect she owns rather than rents. After all, she's been working steadily on Broadway for a decade (and she "did a year in Wicked," we learn from producer Eileen). We imagine Ivy was in the ensemble of Wicked and understudied Glinda rather than playing the principal contract as Glinda. If she was a principal, why would she move into a chorus track in Heaven On Earth, Tom and Julia's show? At any rate, Ivy doesn't go hungry at night (in more ways than one), but she remains artistically voracious, eager to step out of the ensemble and create something big and indelible.
Despite her decade in the trenches, Ivy has not lost her kid-like enthusiasm for shows. She still hangs show posters in her bedroom; that's a framed Heaven On Earth window card above her headboard. Talent may be on her side, but taste is not always evident. Derek, in an act of sympathy or sexual appetite or professional insurance, invites Karen for a drink at the front bar at SD26 (that's San Domenico, the fine Madison Square Park Italian restaurant known for its Uovo plate — soft egg yolk filled raviolo with truffled butter) and tells her that she shouldn't be too upset about the ensemble offer. "Life is long, theatre is longer," he says, indicating that it sometimes takes five years to get a show up, and a lot can change. This is the first indication we get that perhaps Season One of "Smash" will not end with the Broadway premiere of Marilyn the Musical, no matter what sort of fast-track producer Eileen Rand wants to put the show on.
Derek and Karen's drinks meeting is interrupted by a visit from Karen's jealous but decent beau Dev, who reveals his surname (Sundaram), gives her a deep kiss and engages in some competitive banter with fellow Brit Derek about accents, upbringing and education: Derek, from South London, is Cambridge-educated, Dev is third-generation Brit of Southeast Asian heritage, and an Oxford grad. (Smooth actor Raza Jaffrey, who plays Dev, starred in the London production of Bombay Dreams and was a Sky in the London production of Mamma Mia!)
Some highlights of (and comments about) Episode Three:
COCKTAILS FOR TWO: The Eileen Rand Drink Splash (a Manhattan right in the face) appears twice in this episode. Her ex, Jerry, gets soaked in the kisser both times. You can't help hoping that in a future episode we'll get a good monologue about the genesis of the splash. Surely her ex hasn't been the only victim. I imagine it began at Barnard, when Eileen was an undergraduate dating a jazz musician. In some rathskeller, he said something unkind about her pageboy haircut and she threw a Budweiser in his face. Possible? By the way, one of the splashes in this episode occurs at Daniel, the elegant Manhattan restaurant. And, yes, that's actually real-life Broadway producer Emanuel Azenberg meeting with Eileen to discuss financing of Marilyn. Manny is best known for his connection to the plays of Neil Simon over four decades, and for producing Movin' Out. Jerry helped line Manny up for his ex, reminding Eileen that Manny's "one of the last great theatre producers." But Eileen's is a solo producer now, shedding philandering Jerry. "No disrespect, Eileen," Manny concludes, "but I'm just more comfortable dealing with [Jerry] on the business side." Broadway's two-time Tony nominee Lewis J. Stadlen (1974's Candide, 1996's Forum, plus Minnie's Boys, Laughter on the 23rd Floor and The People in the Picture) plays another investor who says no. Lacking support from the traditional money community, Eileen is seen selling jewelry in the episode; she'll likely get more creative in the future.
LUNCH FOR TWO: Dennis, the chorus boy from Heaven On Earth, invites Tom, the composer of Heaven On Earth, on a lunch date (to the back garden at Cloister Café in the East Village) and reveals his interest in dating Tom — and the news that that Ivy is sleeping with Derek. Tom is flattered by the attention but thrown by the Ivy-Derek revelation. Knowing that Ivy got ahead sleeping with Derek, is this Dennis' Big Move? How is it that Tom (talented and successful in the wide-open, gay world of musicals) is single and alone? To be revealed, we imagine.
GET ME A DIMAGGIO: The creatives are interested in Michael Swift (Will Chase, of Broadway's The Story of My Life, High Fidelity, Rent and Billy Elliot) for the role of Joe DiMaggio in Marilyn the Musical, so they trek downtown to see him in "that Bruno Mars thing down at LaMama." Shot on location at LaMama itself — the famed cradle of experimental Off-Off-Broadway work, on East Fourth Street — Swift sings Mars' "Grenade" with a rocking ensemble seemingly borrowed from Rent or Michael Mayer's American Idiot. That's the sinewy Tony Award-nominated dancer Karine Plantadit-Bageot, from Broadway's Sinatra-fueled Come Fly Away, playing Swift's dance partner in the number. How they can tell Swift is right for DiMaggio, based on this rock turn, is anyone's guess, but showing a rock musical as one of the textures in the varied world of modern musical theatre is smart on the part of Rebeck and consulting producer Mayer, who directed the first three episodes of the series (and a fourth one later) and helped conceive musical storytelling in the series (working closely with creator Theresa Rebeck, songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman and choreographer Joshua Bergasse). The sequence also continues the series' effort to reach out to a broad range of music fans by covering a range of pop songs. When we move to an Iowa karaoke bar, where Karen attends a baby shower, she and her pals sing Gretchen Wilson's "Redneck Woman." The scene was shot in the lower level of the Texas barbecue place Hill Country, on West 26th Street.
A FINE SHOWMANCE: Songwriters Tom and Julia bicker over Derek and Ivy's affair. "He's taking advantage of her," Tom says. She counters, "In shows, people, they sleep together. It happens!" With the probable hire of Michael Swift for the workshop, Julia drops a bombshell that not even Tom knew about: Five years ago, while they were working together on a show called Ready Money, Julia and Michael had an affair, and "it lasted awhile," she says, calling it a "show crush." (Show crushes can turn into "showmances," the common term for sleeping with someone you're in a show with.) Julia and Michael have a sexual-tension-fraught reunion in Eileen's office, as they stand near a poster of Shaiman and Wittman's Catch Me If You Can. Why do we feel that Julia's nice husband, Frank, is going to get hurt here? And what about Michael's young son and wife (played by Michelle Federer, who created the role of Nessarose in Wicked)?
ALL ABOUT ELLIS: Eavesdropping at the door (as is his habit), Tom's assistant Ellis overhears the news of Julia's earlier affair with Michael. "No one else can know," Julia tells Tom. (Never mind Ellis, what was the nature of that title Ready Money? A Tom & Julia show? A Julia play?) Encouraged by his friends, including Cyn (played by Condola Rashad, Phylicia's daughter, of Broadway's Stick Fly), Ellis now believes that Marilyn is based on his idea and begins to gather evidence of this by stealing Julia's notebook. The jaw-dropper is not Ellis trying to build a case for authorship or ownership, but that he's sleeping with Cyn. Tom was wrong and Julia was right — Ellis is apparently straight.
SHOW TUNE: "Mr. and Smith" is the Marilyn show number that we see in development. Michael and Ivy sing it for a demo, and the imagined staging is illustrated, with full sets, costumes, wigs and lighting. Showing Joe and Marilyn craving a simple, anonymous life, like the proverbial folks who live on the hill, this is another characteristically clear and detail-kissed lyric by Shaiman and Wittman; the music is by Shaiman. The lyric goes:
MR. & MRS. SMITH
SIMPLY THE FOLKS NEXT DOOR
PEOPLE WITHOUT A SINGLE CLUE WHAT
AN AGENT OR GRIP IS FOR And later:
MR. & MRS. SMITH
MERELY THE FOLKS NEXT DOOR
PEOPLE WHO USE THEIR KITCHEN EACH NIGHT
AND WHO'VE NEVER BEEN IN "TOOTS SHOR"
YEAH, NOTHING CAN BEAT THE VIEW
FOR AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE
THERE'S NO ONE BUT MRS.
NO ONE BUT MR.
..."SMITH" AND ME
When the book is written about the place "Smash" holds in TV history, the new songs written for the series may well be its most important chapter. Face it: This is why we really watch "Smash," right?
(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth.)
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