THE "SMASH" REPORT: Episode 13, Or, Blue in Beantown

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03 May 2012

Katharine McPhee in Grand Central Station
Katharine McPhee in Grand Central Station
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 30 episode, "Tech."

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The "Smash" Report is a little late this week owing to the breaking theatre news the week of April 30. On May 1, nominees of the 2012 Tony Awards were announced. Among them: Christian Borle, who plays composer Tom Levitt on "Smash." He was nominated as Best Featured Actor in a Play for his work as an over-the-top pirate named Black Stache in Broadway's rambunctious Peter and the Starcatcher. Here's Playbill Video's encounter with him at the May 2 Tony nominees reception. As mentioned in the first Playbill "Smash" Report, about the pilot episode, this is Borle's second Tony nomination following his work in Legally Blonde the Musical. That's Borle (as Tom) singing "Another Openin', Another Show," the Cole Porter classic from Kiss Me, Kate, at the top of this week's episode, with boyfriend Sam (played by Leslie Odom, Jr., who is so good in Broadway's Leap of Faith, which earned one Tony nomination this week — as Best Musical). The Porter classic about "stage folk" creating a musical "in Philly, Boston or Baltimo" is sung over a montage of the series' stage folk packing their bags and heading to Boston for the tryout of Bombshell. A Steadicam swirls around chorus performer Karen (Katharine McPhee) on location at Grand Central Station (where you can't catch a train to Boston, but never mind) in a fun sequence that includes the ensemble kids gathering in a keen "getting-out-of-town" moment, when everything seems possible. The 1980 musical 42nd Street features a full number illustrating such a frenzy; it's called — appropriately — "Getting Out of Town." Wanna hear it? For this episode, we have vintage Porter, and it's all right with me. (The producers have so far avoided using Irving Berlin's "There's No Business Like Show Business" in the so-far 13 of 15 episodes in Season One.)

The Boston theatre sequences were shot not on location in a venue in that storied tryout town (where Oklahoma! and Follies have their roots) but at the St. George Theatre on Staten Island, where the earlier Heaven On Earth number was also filmed (remember when Ivy, played by Megan Hilty, had a meltdown in the middle of a Broadway production number?). The St. George opened in 1929 as a movie and vaudeville house; by 1972, after several owners and multiple uses, it was closed. It did not share the fate of so many American movie palaces (decay, neglect, demolition); it reopened in 2004 and is run by the not-for-profit St. George Theatre Restoration Inc. Read more about the venue's history here.

Christian Borle's Tom tells Julia about a casting crisis.
photo by Will Hart/NBC



In Boston, leading man Ted (Tony Yazbeck) tells director Derek (Jack Davenport) that he just landed a TV pilot — he's quitting Bombshell without notice, leaving the troupe without a Joe DiMaggio. (It's unlikely that it would have happened in the real world — the producers would have made Ted sign a "no out" clause for that eight-week period of the Boston run. And Ted's agent would have handled any exit news; but it's more showy to see him with a packed duffle leaving the theatre. The pilot is "great for me," says Ted, exiting up the aisle.) Paging Michael Swift (played by Will Chase in earlier episodes), the actor who created DiMaggio in workshops and whose affair with lyricist-librettist Julia (Debra Messing) caused such chaos in her family. Julia and her husband, Frank (Brian d'Arcy James), are now tentatively back together (he moved back to the house a week ago). Julia, who apparently isn't necessary at the prep/tech for her Broadway-bound show (!), rejects via telephone the notion of bringing back Michael: "I'm not gonna sacrifice my family, my life, for the theatre anymore! Michael is not coming back. If he comes to Boston, I'm out!" Derek, Tom and producer Eileen (Anjelica Huston) all push back. In the real world of musicals, authors have casting approval — they can say no. And the author's agent would handle the conversation between playwright and producer. In theory, a "no" from Julia could shut down Bombshell. The simpler solution would be to recast, but we're days away from the first performance of Bombshell in Boston. Chorus boy Dennis (Phillip Spaeth) could stand in while they recast the lead, right? No. "Smash" is a soap opera, so the return of Michael Swift seems inevitable. Cuckolded, kind, understanding Frank finally steps in, saying to Julia, who is depressed, bedridden and eating bananas and peanut butter in her pajamas: "Eileen is right, Tom is right: You have never been good at separating your work and your personal life." (Truer words were never spoken — she had sex with Michael in a rehearsal studio!) Frank and son Leo (Emory Cohen) — in an act of caregiving — say that Michael should return to Bombshell; a touched Julia asks her family to come to Boston to witness it (!), and it so happens that it's Leo's spring break. We can expect the whole family in Beantown. Frank is a saint. Pack the Jif and Chiquitas!

Continued...

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