THE "SMASH" REPORT: Episode 9, Or, Valley of the Dolls and Guys

By Kenneth Jones
04 Apr 2012

Michael Riedel and Anjelica Huston
Photo by Eric Liebowitz/NBC

How pernicious — or effective — is Michael Riedel in the real world? It's thought that his negative report about the 2000 out-of-town tryout of Seussical helped to prompt personnel changes in the production and put a dark cloud over the show's short, flop Broadway life (the musical has since been revised by Tony winners Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty and is one of the most-produced shows in the stock and amateur market — a post-Broadway smash). When powerful playwright Arthur Laurents publicly derided the quality of the Off-Broadway world-premiere of his play called Big Potato in 2000, Riedel gave Laurents a forum — and the columnist named the names of the valiant Equity actors who were simply trying to do good work under difficult circumstances (namely, the play). The actors, who were making next to no money, took the fall, in print. Producers might be fair game when smearing a mistake like Moose Murders, Carrie, Into the Light and In My Life, but is it really fair to pick on actors, especially actors who are not household names?

Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, executive producers of "Smash" and Broadway producers of How to Succeed and Promises, Promises, recently appeared on Riedel's local PBS show "Theater Talk," looking as uncomfortable as Doug Hughes. Riedel had not been kind to Promises, Promises. TV drama would seem to imitate life: We later see Eileen and Riedel kissing on the cheek and promising to get together for a future dinner. Is this a case of "keep your enemies closer?"

Riedel doesn't play in Peoria, but "Smash" creator Rebeck likes her local color, so Riedel materialized. Of course, in casting the real-life Riedel, some hungry New York City actor lost an opportunity to play a fictional Post theatre scribe in the series. For the second season of "Smash," we suggest that a fictional reporter named "Kenny Jones" make an appearance. Is Hugh Jackman available?

Some highlights of (and comments about) Episode 9:

Norbert Leo Butz
photo by Will Hart/NBC

VALLEY OF THE DOLLS: "You've got to climb Mount Everest to reach The Valley of the Dolls," the campy Jacqueline Susann movie told us, and Ivy is popping so many dolls — to help her sleep, to help her anxiety, to help her throat ailment — that she's headed for a slide down a jagged slope. Best friend Sam (Leslie Odom, Jr., who began performances in Broadway's Leap of Faith this week) tells her to be careful, but insecure Ivy doesn't listen. While performing in the chorus of Tom and Julia's Broadway musical, Heaven on Earth, she takes a tumble downstage as the star of the show — playing Saint Peter at the pearly gates — sings and dances (the purposely ironic) number called "The Higher You Get, the Farther the Fall." That's two-time Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz — who won a 2011 Tony starring in "Smash" songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman's Catch Me If You Can — playing Saint Peter. Read more about Butz in the Playbill Vault. (The Heaven on Earth sequence, complete with an electric stairway to paradise, was filmed in a theatre on Staten Island, by the way.) It's a joy to see Butz shout, "Get off the freakin' stage" to the altered Ivy. This is our first real glimpse at Heaven On Earth. The episode shows an edited version of the rousing revival-style number, but NBC has also made the uncut musical number available on It is virtually impossible to tell what Heaven On Earth is about, plot-wise. It seems to be a musical that follows a handful of disparate people who have just died and are seeking to pass tests created by Saint Peter in order to get into heaven.