THE "SMASH" REPORT: Episode 12, Or, That Screwy Ballyhooey Bollywood

By Kenneth Jones
25 Apr 2012

Uma Thurman
Uma Thurman
Photo by Will Hart/NBC

Playbill's weekly recap, with notes and comment, of the latest episode of the NBC musical drama series "Smash," about the creation of a new Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe. Here's a look at the April 23 episode, "Publicity."

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We learn in Episode 12 of "Smash" that the cast, crew and creatives of the new musical Bombshell have not been sweating it out in rehearsals all these weeks in a vacuum. It turns out, an eight-week pre-Broadway tryout in Boston has been secured. The clock is ticking and the tension is mounting.

Movie star Rebecca Duvall (guest star Uma Thurman) gets tipped off by Ellis (Jaime Cepero) that Karen (Katharine McPhee), her understudy, is a threat. So, Rebecca invites Karen into her frenetic off-stage life. They dine out. They party. The paparazzi follow them. They are called "gal pals" in the press. All the way out in Iowa, Karen's parents are wondering if their daughter is a lesbian. (Hey, they have cable and "Access Hollywood" in Ottumwa, right?)



Karen's boyfriend Dev (Raza Jaffrey) is not thrilled with the budding friendship, and he tells Karen so as she tipsily rolls around on a bed covered with swag rejects — designer clothes — that Rebecca has passed down to her. Yes, stars get free stuff all the time. You should see what Tony Award presenters take home following visits to backstage "gift suites" on Tony night. Dev is starting to question Karen's values, naturally. One night, Rebecca takes Karen to a club and urges her to sing with the band (Rebecca is sizing up the competition). Karen sings Snow Patrol's "Run," once again excelling in the pop-concert setting. Rebecca has learned what she needed: That Cartright girl is a vocal threat! Karen, who once played Maria in The Sound of Music in the heartland, continues to astound for her ability to have any contemporary pop song at the ready. She has committed the hits of "Snow Patrol" to memory, but does she know "Mister Snow" by heart? If you're a budding musical theatre ingénue reading this report in Iowa, and you don't know the difference between Snow Patrol and "Mister Snow," you have no business wanting a life in musical theatre. You need to learn about Carousel.

Ellis, we're happy to report, has been relegated to making smoothies for kooky Rebecca. In an act that is dramatically fuzzy in the "Smash" storytelling tradition, Ellis and Ivy (Megan Hilty) collaborate to send an anonymous text to Karen, telling her she's not needed in rehearsal. This allows Ivy to step in to sing the moving and moody Marc Shaiman-Scott Wittman song meant for one of Marilyn Monroe's "shadow selves" in the show: "Second Hand White Baby Grand."

Shaiman shared on his Facebook page that the reference is drawn from Marilyn's life. A Christie's description from a Lot in a 1999 auction of "The Personal Property of Marilyn Monroe" reads this way: "The white lacquered piano is early-20th century, unknown American manufacturer. …The piano originally belonged to Marilyn Monroe's mother, Gladys. After the star's mother was institutionalized, the piano was sold and it would take years of searching for Marilyn to finally locate the piano and buy it back. Her sentimental attachment to this instrument is well-documented in the 1974 book, published posthumously, 'My Story' by Marilyn Monroe, in Chapter One entitled 'How I Rescued A White Piano.'"

 

Megan Hilty as Ivy.
photo by Will Hart/NBC

Ruminative, poetic, sentimental, elliptical and sad, the number by composer-lyricist Shaiman and lyricist Wittman is one of the most ambitious original songs in the series. We hear it in rehearsal (sung by Ivy), and it bleeds over a montage of domestic activity featuring "Smash" characters. It doesn't completely land as related to the story threads of Bombshell's musical-makers, but it adds musical variety and emotional depth to the musical drama being penned by Tom (Christian Borle) and Julia (Debra Messing). You take these writers more seriously. In theatre terms, "Baby Grand" is as ambitious as "Back to Before" from Ragtime, "Kiss of the Spider Woman" from that same-named show, "I Know Where I've Been" from Hairspray or "So Anyway" from Next to Normal. It's so good, in fact, that greedy Rebecca says that Marilyn — rather than one of her shadows — should sing it.

Here's a video clip of the sequence. Shaiman and Wittman generously shared the lyric to "Second Hand White Baby Grand" with us.

MY MOTHER BOUGHT IT SECOND HAND
FROM A SILENT MOVIE STAR
IT WAS OUT OF TUNE
BUT STILL I LEARNED TO PLAY

AND WITH EACH NOTE WE BOTH WOULD SMILE
FORGETTING WHO WE ARE
AND ALL THE PAIN
WOULD SIMPLY FLY AWAY

SOMETHING SECOND HAND AND BROKEN
STILL CAN MAKE A PRETTY SOUND
EVEN IF IT DOESN'T HAVE A PLACE TO LIVE

OH, THE WORDS WERE LEFT UNSPOKEN
WHEN MY MAMA CAME AROUND
BUT THAT SECOND HAND WHITE BABY GRAND
STILL HAD SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL TO GIVE

THROUGH MISSING KEYS AND BROKEN STRINGS
THE MUSIC WAS OUR OWN
UNTIL THE DAY WE SAID OUR LAST GOODBYES

THE BABY GRAND WAS SENT AWAY
A CHILD ALL ALONE
TO PRAY SOMEBODY ELSE WOULD REALIZE

(THAT) SOMETHING SECOND HAND AND BROKEN
STILL CAN MAKE A PRETTY SOUND
EVEN IF IT DOESN'T HAVE A PLACE TO LIVE

OH, THE WORDS ARE STILL UNSPOKEN
NOW THAT MAMA'S NOT AROUND
BUT THAT SECOND HAND WHITE BABY GRAND
STILL HAS SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL TO GIVE

FOR MANY YEARS THE MUSIC HAD TO ROAM
UNTIL WE FOUND A WAY TO FIND A HOME
SO NOW I WAKE UP EVERY DAY
AND SEE HER STANDING THERE
JUST WAITING FOR A PARTNER TO COMPOSE

I WISH MY MOTHER STILL COULD HEAR
THAT SOUND BEYOND COMPARE
I'LL PLAY HER SONG TIL EVERYBODY KNOWS

SOMETHING SECOND HAND AND BROKEN
STILL CAN MAKE A PRETTY SOUND
DON'T WE ALL DESERVE A FAMILY ROOM TO LIVE?

OH, THE WORDS CAN'T STAY UNSPOKEN
UNTIL EVERYONE HAS FOUND
THAT SECOND HAND WHITE BABY GRAND
THAT STILL HAS SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL TO GIVE
I STILL HAVE SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL TO GIVE

 Continued...