THE "SMASH" REPORT: Episode 6, Or, The Pajama Top Game

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13 Mar 2012

Katharine McPhee's Karen overhears that Ivy may be too ill to perform.
Katharine McPhee's Karen overhears that Ivy may be too ill to perform.
Patrick Harbron/NBC

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."

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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:

 

Anjelica Huston and Jaime Cepero
photo by Patrick Harbron/NBC

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.)



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