THE "SMASH" REPORT: Season Two, Episode 15 or Grin and Bare It
By Ben Rimalower
Playbill's weekly recap, with notes and comment, of the latest episode of the NBC musical drama series "Smash," about the dreamers behind Broadway musicals. Here's a look at the May 12 episode, "The Transfer."
And don't let the door hit ya on the way out! Even though the announcement that "Smash" was canceled is so fresh it's still being retweeted by some of my "late adopter" friends, NBC is already so over it that the first two minutes of Smash were preempted for golf! That's right, GOLF—the thrilling Saturday night spectator sport. At least we can be grateful that, last week, good timing (and blessed providence!) spared sweet Kyle's death such heartless indelicacy
So while I can't report on the very beginning of this week's episode, I can tell you that early in the proceedings, NBC treated us to a little bit of magic by way of Lindsay Mendez GIVING IT to a song (I think possibly) called "Mr. & Mrs. G.I. Joe" while in rehearsal for "Houston & Levitt Night," a concert of Tom and Julia's songs, which Tom is directing at the Oak Room, as part of the good press for the Tony Awards campaign.
Lindsay Mendez worries that she'll stand out as the only person on the bill for the concert without a Tony Award, and Eileen assures her, "This isn't about the Tonys. It's about old friends getting together for a wonderful celebration," then in a deadpan aside to Tom, "This is all about the Tonys."
Not helping are the rumors swirling around regarding the end Tom and Julia's partnership. Tom is listening to Eileen's concerns very carefully, but Julia is worlds away doing her dramaturgly duties at Hit List previews. When both the Bombshell and Hit List gangs find themselves at Table 46 for post-show production pow-wows, Eileen asks Julia to decamp to the Bombshell team for a moment. She wants Tom and Julia to sing a duet in the concert at the Oak Room—and when Eileen says she wants something, it's usually in the form of "You have to…" Julia protests that she's not much of a singer, but Eileen doesn't care what or how she sings as long as it's together with Tom and smiling.
Man, is Jimmy entitled. He waves Julia back over to his and Derek's table. She's been away for two minutes, talking to Eileen Rand, for god's sake, can't a person get a break?!
The thing is, Jimmy is very, very, very stressed about Hit List previews. Everyone wants to it to be bright lights and lollipops and to come up roses—for themselves—and for Kyle! But something isn't working. Derek is very quick to blame Ana and insists on giving her the night off, letting her understudy, Daisy, perform one show so that Ana can have a break.
Ana knows she's doomed. "You know who else had a break? Erin Dilly in Thoroughly Modern Millie. You know who went on for her? Sutton Foster. I guess she's still on a break."
Then Ana figures out that Daisy is one of the girls who accused Derek of sexual harassment. Sure enough, Daisy is blackmailing Derek. She videotaped them together the night of the Bombshell opening. Doh! Karen and Ana are livid that Derek is sacrificing Ana to protect himself.
Jimmy doesn't think replacing Ana is going to fix the show and is very disturbed to read that the fans online think the show was better downtown. Julia knows why they feel that way. She's been thinking about it and the difference is context. Off-Broadway, the audience was so close to the action onstage. Now, on Broadway, the stage is elevated and everything happens so far away from where the people are sitting. How to draw them in? Make them feel connected? Um, they have 10 hours. Derek, always a wise director despite everything else, instructs them to find one idea that feels organic and go with that. That's the kind of thing Kyle was good at! Julia thinks there might be something in Kyle's notes to solve this problem. After some hunting (and an emotional trip to the Greenpoint loft they shared), Julia and Jimmy find Kyle's "newsreel" idea, to incorporate real-time social media updates, both onstage and on the mobile devices of the audience, into the show as interstitial material, commenting on the nature of fame in society.
The idea goes into the show that night (seemingly without any help from Derek… really? The director is out of the room while the songwriter and dramaturg tech new material?) and the idea works like gangbusters, earning a spontaneous burst of rapturous applause. Karen tells Jimmy that Kyle would be proud of him, and that so is she. I don't know. He may be sober and talented, but Jimmy's still an entitled prick. He flips out at Julia when she won't agree to come back the next day to work more of the social media updates into Hit List. She assures him he can do it himself and he responds to her encouragement with bile. This, after she spent all day working with him and almost completely missed Houston & Levitt Night!
Speaking of which, with Julia agreed (at least in theory) to a duet, a Houston-Levitt Best Score nomination looks likely, but Tom still has his own (apparently limited) chances for a potential Best Director nomination to worry about. In an effort to boost his stature as a director in town, he reconceptualizes Houston & Levitt Night as a sexy revue, transforming the Oak Room (at the Plaza?) into a house of burlesque. (Says, the stage manager, "Pimps, raise your hands." Did Mel Brooks write this scene?) Forget that Bombshell number, Ivy, you're singing this song about a stripper!
Not so fast. Agnes has also warned Ivy about some bad personal press of her own, including a Musto blind item citing her forays with pill-popping and promiscuity. Agnes tells Ivy she needs image rehab, that her Tony for playing Marilyn rests on her ability to be Norma Jean offstage. Ivy worries about this stripper number, until Eileen assures her she's a star just the way she is. Eileen also got her a national commercial for Ford Icon ("I play one at night, but by day, I drive a…"), so Ivy heeds her advice and absolutely kills with "Grin and Bare It."
So, in a nutshell, the stakes are high, a fact not forgotten when Ivy and Karen agree, no matter what happens in awards season, to be adults. At the Oak Room for Houston & Levitt Night, that same Tonys tension is handled with far less bonhomie in a comical and catty (although not comically catty!) exchange between Tom and Broadway scribe Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Tom manages to cover Julia's absence with Lin-Manuel ("She's at the bar. Tequila courage!") and with Laura Benanti ("She's in the bathroom."), Norbert Leo Butz ("She's in a taxi.") and Alice Ripley ("She's backstage."), but he's freaking out whilst rearranging the song order to give her a chance to show up.
Then comes the news that Tom and Julia's break-up has been leaked to the press (which we later learn was the handiwork of none other than Eileen herself!). On the phone from Hit List rehearsal, Julia question why, if everyone knows, is it so important for them to do this duet? Tom admits to his sentimentality over the occasion. Julia shows up. It's too late in the song cylce to do the duet they'd planned. Julia takes the stage and shares an Arthur Miller quote and then sings in a simple voice a song about what it means to be a writer living in and out of your work. Tom joins sweetly and afterward, they seem as moved by the underlying montage of their relationship and collaboration as we are.
This is precisely the schmaltz Eileen was going for when she secretly hyped this event as their farewell concert. Tom and Julia part ways as warm friends. All is right.
Except, not quite all. Ana, in her desire to trash Derek for giving in to the blackmail and firing her, tells Ivy that Karen told her that Ivy slept with Derek, which Karen shouldn't have told Ana, at least in Ivy's eyes. Oy, this is where "Smash" loses me.
Once again, even in these last few, bittersweet hours of "Smash's" existence, you gotta take the rough with the smooth. This episode dealt so revealingly with the complicated dramatic passions of people working in theatre, and how often their wires get crossed when everyone's just trying do their own thing. I love how Tom worked to sex up the Oak Room show and Ivy wanted to show her sweetness and purity both under the auspices of Agnes' Bombshell Tonys campaign. Short of Eileen literally running every detail in everyone's lives—or hiring her publicist to direct the Oak Room show—this was unavoidable. That's show business!
But then you get this, "You told her that I slept with him," high school stuff. It's not that it doesn't happen on Broadway. It happens everywhere. That's the thing; it's not special about Broadway so it's less interesting on "Smash."
But enough complaining. We only have one episode left, a double hour two weeks from now. And Ivy just got a call from her doctor. She's pregnant! AND THE TONYS ARE COMING! Fasten your seatbelts. "Smash" is going down in blaze of, "Smash" is going down in a blaze.
(Ben Rimalower is the author and star of the critically acclaimed Patti Issues now its ninth hit month off Off-Broadway. Read Playbill.com's coverage of the solo show here. Visit him at benrimalower.com and follow @benrimalower on Twitter.)
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