THE "SMASH" REPORT: Recapping the Pilot Episode, With Comments and Context

By Kenneth Jones
06 Feb 2012

Christian Borle

We first meet producer Eileen at a lawyer's office where she and her husband, Jerry, and their lawyers, are meeting about the spouses' impending divorce, which is complicated by the fact that they are also producing partners. Their planned revival of My Fair Lady (to be directed by Derek) hits the rocks due to the breakup, prompting Eileen's ambition for an independent project — the buzzed-about Marilyn. Philandering Jerry is played by Michael Cristofer, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of The Shadow Box and a respected actor recently seen as the father in Tony Kushner's Intelligent Homosexual's Guide… and as Alfieri in the 2010 Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge. On his right is Robert LuPone, playing the divorce lawyer. LuPone created the role of Zach in A Chorus Line but also played Alfieri in the 1998 Broadway revival of A View From the Bridge.

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Broadway knows the work of Christian Borle from Spamalot and Mary Poppins. Here's the headline about this actor: Every show should have one. Borle recently appeared Off-Broadway in Peter and the Starcatcher and Angels in America, and was a Tony nominee for playing the hard-working law student Emmett in Legally Blonde the Musical. All you need to know about Borle can be found in a nine-minute track called "Chip On My Shoulder" on the cast album of Legally Blonde. No kidding. Download it now. It's a perfect piece of musical writing, sensitively rendered by a great actor-singer. (Luckily for "Smash" and us, Borle plays a composer, so future episodes are certain to feature him singing, right?)



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Karen's parents are played by the real-life acting couple Becky Ann Baker (of Broadway's Good People and Assassins) and Dylan Baker (of the Broadway production of Rebeck's Mauritius and a Tony nominee for the original La Bete). On a visit from Iowa, the Cartwrights respond to Karen's dreams the way so many fearful parents of artists do: "We worry," says mom. "It's so competitive — and all that rejection!" Karen says, "Well, sometimes dreams are hard." Then dad twists the knife: "And sometimes, sweetie, dreams just don't mix with reality." Their fear for — and/or perceived lack of support of — an artist-child is the rule, not the exception. These parents are not villlains, they are forces that can fuel or crush ambition. (It's not as though the Cartwrights aren't proud; they still rave about Karen's high-school performance as Maria in The Sound of Music.) Look, Karen may be waiting tables, but it's not as though she has a bad agent — despite her "light" resume, she got an audition for a Broadway-aimed musical, didn't she?

Megan Hilty
photo by Will Hart/NBC

It's no easier for Ivy, who tells her mother by telephone that "they want me to play Marilyn!" This is an overexaggeration typical of insecure, desperate actors. In truth, Ivy only has a callback, but the line is a great "tell." She wants it too much, and wants to impress her mother. Ivy catches herself and admits, "Well, I mean, I'm still auditioning…" A deeper story about her relationship with her mother is expected to be part of the series. It's been reported that Bernadette Peters plays mom.

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Megan Hilty, who played the Dolly Parton role in Broadway's 9 to 5: The Musical (produced by NBC leader Robert Greenblatt) and was a Glinda in Broadway's Wicked, gets one of Rebeck's best moments when her Ivy (currently employed in the ensemble of Heaven on Earth at the Shubert) admits to her pal Tom, "I just want a part. I trained! …I'm not complaining." Tom says, "Just dreaming." Heartbreaker Hilty replies, "Like everybody." A perfect piece of writing that sums up the shared hope of the entire population of characters on "Smash."

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There is tension between Tom and Derek, and it's rooted in a past project. Derek describes Tom as "a nightmare," while Tom calls Derek "a terrible human being." Their past tension will, no doubt, be made clear later in the season. Derek poses a potential threat to a central relationship in "Smash" — Julia and Tom. "I love this project, I love you," Tom says to Julia. "I just don't want to put it or you or me in danger!" ("Danger" is a great word; let's hope for streaks of serious darkness this season.) "Gay men piss me off," Davenport's sour Derek tells Huston's formidable Eileen. She observes, "That's an unfortunate position to take in the American theatre."

(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth.)

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