THE "SMASH" REPORT: Episode 6, Or, The Pajama Top Game
By Kenneth Jones
Playbill's weekly overview, with notes and comment, of the latest episode of the NBC series "Smash," about the people behind the creation of a new Broadway musical. Here's a look at the March 12 episode, "Chemistry."
We're a week away from the workshop presentation of Marilyn the Musical and leading lady Ivy (Megan Hilty) experiences an actor's nightmare (well, one of them): her voice cracks in a warmup. An ENT determines she's got no serious nodes, permanent damage or infection — just inflammation. The steroid prednisone, an actor's best friend in a vocal emergency, is prescribed. Ivy is "hypersensitive to drugs," composer Tom (Christian Borle) says, and it's noted by others that prednisone has "a lot of bad side effects." Karen (Katharine McPhee) is put on high alert in case the creative team needs a healthy Marilyn for the workshop.
Our own internet search indicates that "loss of contact with reality" is one possible side effect of the drug, which is all the proof we need to accept a hallucinatory sequence in which Ivy, looking like Maggie the Cat on a bedspread — in a choppily-edited performance meant to illustrate her side effects — tests her voice with a pop song, in her apartment. All seems well except for the dimming lights, fractured images and the creepy vision of Karen, dressed as Marilyn, looking at her from the bedroom mirror. Her gay besties, Tom and chorus dancer Sam (Leslie Odom, Jr.), come to her rescue. Have we mentioned Sam likes sports? Team mention of the week: The Rangers.
We reached out to a couple of Broadway divas to ask about prednisone. The drug is well known in the acting community. No one we spoke to had ever heard of such an extreme reaction to the steroid, but it makes for good soap opera. The danger, according to our actress sources, is that the drug gives you a false sense of your ability. The swelling may be temporarily relieved, but if you sing full-out you might be doing damage without knowing it. (Cue "The More You Know…" music here.)
As previously reported, director-choreographer Derek (Jack Davenport) cares more about Marilyn than he does about Ivy, as he makes clear when he asks about her "voice" but not about her and her health. He then gives her another aggravated, negative note — during a rehearsal of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman's doo-wop-kissed song for Marilyn and Joe DiMaggio, "History Is Made at Night." In front of the cast and creative team (and producer Eileen, played by Anjelica Huston), Ivy finally has her say: "Maybe you could give me notes without publicly humiliating me at the same time. …Artists are not football players who can take endless abuse and still do their jobs. …I need to stop sleeping with men who are complete narcissistic pricks!" Her exit line? "You're not that good looking and you're not that good in bed, either."
Derek dismisses her rant as a side effect of the drug. Ivy has regained her voice, but will she be strong enough to stay away from Derek for the next nine episodes?
Some highlights of (and comments about) Episode 6:
MY SISTER EILEEN: Tom's assistant, Ellis (Jaime Cepero), has been borrowed by Eileen, who seems eager to have a spy in the rehearsal room while she scares up investors — and hunts for a new apartment as she learns to live free of her philandering ex. Ellis and his real-estate pal Zach (Hale Appleman) show her apartments, but also lead her to a downtown bar where she gets in touch with her bohemian self, orders martinis (!), plays a target-practice video game (taking aim at bucks in a forest) and flirts with the hot bartender. This behavior does not reflect the side effects of prednisone; it's the unfurling of a character. (That's Daytime Emmy nominee Thorsten Kaye, by the way, as the scruffy bartender. Kaye played Zach Slater on "All My Children" for many years, and studied at the Hilberry Theatre at Detroit's Wayne State University, the nation's only graduate theatre program that presents works in rotating rep. We saw him play Macbeth, potently, there in the 1993-94 season.)
NAME DROPPING: Scheduled to attend the workshop presentation of Marilyn, Eileen reveals, are real-life Broadway producers and theatre owners "the Nederlanders" (not named individually, so save an entire row!), plus Wicked producer David Stone and Tony Award-winning actor Nathan Lane. Jeffrey Finn has also RSVP'd. He's the real-life producer of Broadway's Seminar by "Smash" creator Theresa Rebeck. Finn was also behind the Tony-nominated revival of On Golden Pond starring James Earl Jones and Broadway's Oleanna starring Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles.
HAVA NAGILA — NO, HAVE TWO: Chorus performer Jessica (Savannah Wise, daughter of Tony Award winner Scott Wise of Jerome Robbins' Broadway) invites Karen to take over a $500 singing gig at a Long Island bar mitzvah (a job that Ivy had actually passed onto Jessica). With the hired band, Karen sings "Shake It Out," a Florence and the Machine song. She is noticed there, and the business card of a Tommy Mottola-like record producer is handed to her. She later makes the call. (That's the respected triple-threat New York and regional actor Fred Berman as the bar mitzvah band's lead guitarist. Berman was a replacement Timon in Broadway's The Lion King, appeared in Off-Broadway's Shockheaded Peter and played Mickey Marcus in the acclaimed 2004 Worth Street Theatre Company revival of The Normal Heart, which played an engagement at The Public Theater. He's also a Best Actor Carbonell Award nominee for playing Irving Berlin in the play-with-music Tin Pan Alley Rag.)
JULIA & MICHAEL: Julia (Debra Messing) gives in to the hungry pleas of her ex-lover, Michael (Will Chase), the show's DiMaggio, by agreeing to meet him at the rehearsal studio at 10 PM (the guard will give them access). It's all very teen-age, this behavior. But the beat, beat, beat of the tom-tom proves too much for these selfish show people. As Carrie's crazy mother sings in Carrie, "Eve was weak." Well, so is Julia, though she has done her best to put Michael off. When she had tried to avoid him at rehearsal earlier, he came at her with this: "If you don't talk to me, I'll make a scene and everyone will know," offering a possibly unintentional abuser-victim twist to their story. Maybe she's not a victim, but just a girl who cain't say no — to him. To make good on their 10 PM liaison, she explains her absence to her nice husband Frank (Brian d'Arcy James) by saying she needs to clear her head and go for a walk (all the way from Brooklyn to Manhattan, it turns out — and in her pajama top; this behavior is also not a side effect of prednisone). "I should have never let them cast you," Julia says to Michael in the moonlit rehearsal hall. He replies, "I'll only touch your shirt…" And then, "No one has to know." Shirts come off. Like Sky Masterson and Sister Sarah Brown before them, the chemistry — yeah, chemistry — between guy and doll is too strong to resist, and they have sex on a couch. (And, no, this did not happen in Guys and Dolls.) History is made at night, indeed.
(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth.)
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