THE "SMASH" REPORT: Season 2, Episode 11, or The Un-Dress Rehearsal
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 April 13 episode, "The Dress Rehearsal."
Well, Liza Minnelli guest-starred on "Smash" last week, what's left to watch for? I would question what's left to live for, but with "Arrested Development" coming back, I think we're all going to be okay.
Still "Smash" continues—and for Tom, this week it was a nightmare – literally, as this week's episode opens with Tom's bad dream (the proverbial actor's nightmare) that it's opening night and he's onstage naked, not knowing his lines. Ivy and the cuties from the chorus are laughing and turning away in horror, as are Eileen and Julia and the gang, but he just stands there nude, exposed, vulnerable.
He wakes up relieved to find himself safely at home in bed, but faster than he can voice activate, "Siri, take a note. We need nudity in Bombshell," he rolls over to see his ex-assistant, the traitor Ellis, naked in bed with him.
But wait, that was one of those play-within-a-play dreams, so now he wakes for real and everything's okay. He even gets the reassurance from Julia that opening night is still weeks away, although that comfort quickly turns cold with the addendum that the invited dress rehearsal (the "gypsy run-through," when all the chorus dancers, or gypsies, from other shows are invited) is today!
Of course, Julia's nervous, too. It's her show as well, even if she has been spending most of her time downtown at Manhattan Theater Workshop. It's just that those boys need help with structure, and she really owes it to the artistic director to see that Hit List lives up to its name (the first part). But, no, her top priority is Bombshell and seeing that it does not live up to its name (first part). Julia tells Kyle she will come to the Hit List run-through tomorrow, if and only if the Bombshell gypsy run-through goes well.
It does not. The panels don't open for Marilyn at the top of the show and the intermission is 45 minutes long because they can't get the plane onstage for the top of act two and there's some trouble with the fog machine, AND Ivy has a wardrobe malfunction in the scene with JFK which leaves her naked as a jay-bird onstage.
Eileen feels they should cancel the first preview to fix glitches, but Tom worries that will make it look like Bombshell's a troubled production.
"Bombshell is a troubled production," points out Eileen, sagely. "This is our last chance to get it right."
But Tom is determined, and if he can fix all the problems by 3 PM, then the first preview is a go. Now, about that nudity. It's been blowing up online, leading to more ticket sales in the past few hours than the past few weeks combined, which prompts Eileen to tell Ivy, "Nudity was authentic to who Marilyn was."
Ivy is concerned about overshadowing the work that she's doing. Her mother advises her to go for it while she's still young enough.
Ann Harada has fixed all the problems in the show, but the intermission is still long. Maybe Tom could write a really long entr'acte? Ann Harada questions him, "And orchestrate it and give it to the musicians and have them learn it?" Then, she adds adorably, "Did I say that out loud?"
Looks like, for tonight, the show is stuck with a 30-minute intermission to get the plane onstage. Can Ann break the cast for dinner?
Wait ten minutes. Julia has an idea. Cue jazz brush. Tss-tss-tss-tss-tss-tss-tss-tss-tss-tss.
Meanwhile, downtown, Jimmy (looking "a little strung out") has been up for three days writing nine songs (just on Adderall and Red Bull, he assures Karen) so Derek has material for the nameless Diva character without having to pillage Karen's part. Karen is confident Derek wouldn't screw up the show two weeks before previews out of spite. Well, as insurance, Jimmy and Kyle have made sure Karen's the first thing the audience will see, "and that's not changing." Kids.
They run through the show with the new material. Derek feels disconnected from the material, uninvested, and can barely cough out a little, "I loved it," which fools only Karen. He confides in Julia, who, as a dramturg, has learned how to "speak from the I" and shares about her own experience when things ended with her former lover/leading man, Michael Swift—she saw the show more clearly than she ever had, free of whatever distractions had come before.
Derek takes another look at the show (and by other look, I mean, the entire cast and crew run through the entire two-hour extravaganza one more time and Derek pays attention this time).
Derek is inspired, barking out commands to move this section here and reprise that there and Amanda should take the E before the video (I assume he means the party drug Ecstasy and not the high note, E, as in "before my PAST once again can blind me" in "Meadowlark," but in Manhattan Theater Workshop's Hit List, one never knows!).
Everyone's falling in line—actors respect a strong leader, Tom!—and even Karen is superfluously chirping in her unnecessary support. Then Derek gets to his Big Idea. Derek wants to start the show with the final moment (Amanda's murder by the nameless Diva) and then tell the whole story in flashback, like "Sunset Boulevard" and "All About Eve" (I think the writers meant Sunset Boulevard and Applause… oh, wait!).
This is so controversial. Won't it spoil the ending? No, it sets it up (you idiot).
And then Derek is off. "Bring up the cue for act two, scene 11." "No, a capella, a capella."
It looks great. There's a smattering of applause, just for the quick blocking rehearsal Derek gives Karen's roommate for her new opening number.
Like Stan Gable in "Revenge of the Nerds," wiping whipped cream off the bottom of a pie tin to reveal his girlfriend Betty Child's bare image, Karen can only sit on the sidelines and mutter, "That's my pie," as her big song, her anthem, is given to her roommate for a new opening number.
Jimmy freaks out. "Damnit, Derek. I've worked my ass off for 72 hours so that you wouldn't do this. I didn't sleep!"
"Yeah, obviously," snorts Derek. "When you come down off whatever it is you're on, you'll see this really works," adding in his best Alex McCord on "Real Housewives of New York City" impression, "I should be at my first preview right now, but instead I am back in high school with you!"
The artistic director questions whether tonight's stumble-through for Richard Francis of the New York Times is the right moment to make structural changes. He leaves it to Kyle to decide.
Kyle says Derek is right!
Jimmy is PISSED!!!! "We're supposed to be a team."
"Except you don't listen to anything I say," Kyle points out, adding that Derek sees the show more clearly.
Jimmy spits back, "I see the show perfectly. I see Derek changing it because he is jealous of me and Karen," and then, in a soap operatic bastardization of what was once brilliant dialogue in Fosse's film of Cabaret ("Screw Maximilian." "I do." "So do I."), Jimmy tops it off, "which if we're gonna be really honest here, so are you."
Kyle is cool and confident and walks out.
Meanwhile, Karen calls Derek a "jealous old man," accusing him of being angry at her and Jimmy and taking it out on the show.
In a rare moment of complexity on "Smash," we see Derek, happy to punish Karen and enjoying telling her about Jimmy's dark past and concealed identity, and yet coolly confident he has in fact done what's best for the show.
Also confident, but infinitely less cool, Karen condescendingly assures her roommate, "He only gave you that song because he was pissed at me." And thus commences such an annoying, stupid, soap opera fight. Nobody's talking about the same thing. It's like if I say the sky is blue and you say it tastes like chicken. To think I once rolled my eyes about the competition between Karen and Ivy—how I long for those blissfully innocent days of the Bombshell auditions. I cannot be bothered with this crap at this late date. Whatever, be friends, don't be friends. I'm checking my Instagram.
Back uptown, Bombshell's first preview is about to start. Manhattan Theater Workshop's artistic director scoots into his seat with Julia and Tom as the lights are going down, just in time to catch the tail-end of their airplane tsouris talk and remark that the best part of downtown theatre is there are no planes, except ones made of actors.
Tom rolls his eyes at this "so Derek" staging style, but then, we see exactly that style come to life as Julia's idea to replace the airplane opens act two with actors crawling over each other and people's seats, slithering through the audience, Actor's Studio-like, enacting Marilyn's studies with Lee Strasberg.
When at last, the much-discussed JFK sex scene arrives, Ivy's game-time decision proves to be no nudity.
But wait, in the morning-after "Jack don't leave, come back to bed" scene, Ivy reveals all. Now, because it's more vulnerable to be naked while being rejected. Brilliant.
The performance is triumphant. Everyone is elated, everyone except Sam, Tom's chorus-boy-friend who, after giving up his featured role in the Book of Mormon tour to play a role since cut from Bombshell, didn't even get to go on tonight as a swing because of seniority. Sam is bitter. Sam blames Tom. Of course, it's also about Sam's career—I mean, if you google Sam Strickland, all you see is d*ck shots from a regional production of Take Me Out, but Tom is not innocent in this. And Tom feels bad, but mostly Tom feels excited to thank the theatre party ladies outside for their kind words and to watch Ivy signing autographs at the stage door. She has never looked more beautiful or star-like. I have to admit it's taken me a while to get on the Ivy boat (I was very moved when Katharine McPhee sang "Over The Rainbow" on "American Idol" and I never saw 9-to-5, so sue me!), but this week, I realized I'm so far onto that boat, I can't even see the shore.
Karen seems especially unappealing in this episode. One particular line she says to Jimmy about her connection to him, "what I feel with you," really chaps my hide. She's just insipid and sentimental, self-pitying without any kind of light or spark of humanity, like she's really tired and hungover and the set smelled like rancid bacon when they shot that scene.
No wonder Jimmy's done with her too. She questions him about his past and he's just like, "I'm sorry," but not the good kind of I'm sorry, more like, "I'm sorry that's just the way it is." And she's like, "I'm sorry too." And that's that for them. For this week.
Jimmy saves his good "I'm sorry" for Kyle. Kyle, his writing partner, Kyle, without whom, he acknowledges, none of this success would have happened, namely the love letter they and Hit List receive from Richard Francis in the New York Times. They are "edgy and occasionally brilliant!"
Unfortunately for Tom and all the kids uptown, the article compares Hit List to Bombshell, accusing Bombshell of "[raking] over the past," while "Hit List opens our eyes to the present and the inevitable future."
Eileen is livid that Richard betrayed her, consecrating Hit List "the musical of the season." She throws him out of her office.
Tom is so hurt that Julia spent the days dramaturging downtown, and not at his side, working on their show—even though he told her he didn't need her, even though she was there for all the run-throughs and even though she was there to solve the intermission problem. I guess he wanted her there to help him run lines with the kid that plays young Norma Jean. Hell hath no fury like a collaborator clobbered.
Ivy finds Derek on her stoop. Again.
"This thing between us," she asks, "it's just casual, right?"
"Set my alarm. 3 AM I'm out," he shows her his phone, with the alarm set for 3 AM.
Ivy slides the alarm setting to off.
That's what she said.
In a final cliff-hanging twist, Jimmy's drug dealer approaches Karen's roommate outside MTW asking where he is, claiming to be an old friend from out-of-town. They flirt. Wait… I thought we saw Jimmy pay this dude off. What’s he after now? Blackmail? I guess Jimmy still has some secret. Why does the show have to go there? Just when Bombshell is finally in previews and Jimmy and Kyle are poised to be the toast of Broadway!
Sigh. I miss Liza.
(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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