THE "SMASH" REPORT: Episode 13, Or, Blue in Beantown
By Kenneth Jones
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."
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.
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!
Some highlights of (and comments about) Episode 13:
SAY IT WITH MUSIC: Company rat Ellis (Jaime Cepero) agrees to be Ivy's spy. Insecure after all these months, she doesn't trust Derek. And for good reason, it turns out. When Ellis turns his back, Derek goes to the dressing room of insecure movie star Rebecca Duvall (Uma Thurman) to buck her up and give her acting advice. They end up kissing — deeply, passionately — while her assistant, Randall (Sean Dugan) stands guard at the door. Randall turns Ivy away in the hall. Behind him, we hear giggling between Derek and Rebecca. The writing's on the wall: It's time to sing a sad song. In a hotel room with the tipsy chorus kids, a "sing-off" between Ivy and Karen is proposed. "I Love Louisa," again, is not the song of choice, but a completely lip-smacking, delicious, toothsome cover of Rose Royce's R&B song "I'm Going Down" is. The populated hotel room magically transforms to an empty room bathed in blue, and a rainstorm outside the window. The crisply made-up, unused double beds are a nice touch. Megan Hilty tears it up. It's so raw and arresting that Karen doesn't get a chance to offer a musical reply. Sing-off averted!
KAREN AND DEV: Dev (Raza Jaffrey), who has seemed so smart, evolved and collected in the series, comes to Boston and proposes marriage to Karen. Understandably, perhaps, her reply is, "I'm in tech!" (Hey, partners of show people: Don't materialize during "ten out of twelves," when actors are working ten straight hours in tech.) Dev doesn't like taking a backseat to Karen's career, he is hurt that he was passed over for a promotion in the mayor's office and he is feeling guilty that in Karen's absence he made out with that scheming New York Times political reporter R.J. Quigley (Tala Ashe, who has theatre credits Off-Broadway and regionally, including at Oregon Shakespeare Festival). Dev makes the mistake of telling Karen that he almost slept with R.J., prompting this reply from Karen: "I can't decide to get married during tech, particularly to someone who's cheating on me!" She leaves his side, and he retreats to a Boston bar where, on the stool next to him, sits a boozy Ivy. They introduce themselves (wait, don't they know each other through their partners?) — and he buys her a drink. Fade to black. Cue the Jif and Chiquitas?
SAM AND TOM: Chorus dancer Sam's family lives in Boston, and he takes Tom home to dinner, where we learn that Sam's father owned a paint store for 35 years, and Sam's brother is a doctor. Mom and sister-in-law are also at the supper table. It's "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" without the tension. The gay thing isn't an issue, but Dad wishes Sam had a more solid job. Tom agrees that dancing is a precarious thing, with little security and a high rate of injury. Sam overhears the conversation, and says Tom is "taking an ax to my life choices." They talk it out and continue on the road to a deeper relationship. Another sing-off averted!
(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth.)
View Playbill Video's earlier visit with cast and creatives of "Smash."
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