THE "SMASH" REPORT: Episode 11, Or, Starcatchers

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17 Apr 2012

Uma Thurman
Uma Thurman
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 16 episode, "The Movie Star."


If you didn't already know that producer Eileen Rand (Anjelica Huston) is a novice at producing musicals (remember last week, when we learned that Bombshell is financed with cash from a drunken rock star named Randy Cobra?), there is more evidence in Episode 11, when movie star Rebecca Duvall (guest star Uma Thurman) arrives to sing some of the show material, which she has been working on privately. The Marilyn Monroe-inspired musical is apparently in some developmental phase that includes ongoing rehearsals. Gathered in a studio are the chorus kids, including competing former Marilyns Ivy (Megan Hilty) and Karen (Katharine McPhee); the writers, Tom (Christian Borle) and Julia (Debra Messing); director-choreographer Derek (Jack Davenport); stage manager Linda (Ann Harada); Eileen; and others unnamed. (We're waiting for a music supervisor to be revealed for Bombshell.)

Rebecca, it turns out, cannot really carry a tune, even though she can carry a movie (her latest is a sequel called "Casual Friday 2"). Fortyish Rebecca is a Big Star, and the kids in the room who grew up on her movies are in awe of her — well, until she sings. "That's the sound of a thousand ticketholders demanding their money back," Ivy, licking her chops, says to understudy Karen. "You're counting the minutes until she implodes and the part is yours. If you're not, you're in the wrong business, understudy."

We can understand that maybe the chorus kids didn't know Rebecca couldn't sing, but shouldn't Eileen, Julia, Tom and Derek have known beforehand? Who was teaching her these songs? How shielded are they from the liabilities of their own show? You think producer Manny Azenberg ever waited until first rehearsal to see if a star for his new Neil Simon play could walk and talk?

Christian Borle and Uma Thurman
photo by Will Hart/NBC

Let's pretend that Rebecca is so thickly surrounded by "yes" people that it didn't leak out 'til now that she's better at speak-singing than singing. She's Rex Harrison, but with good legs.

Just how much of a crazy Hollywood diva is Rebecca? We learn she has ideas for the creative team. Uh oh. She wants to "pow wow" with them, she says. Among her thoughts: the scenes need to be longer, the story of Marilyn needs to be "deep and smart," she wants to "dig into her psyche." And that new ballad? "I just cannot handle that kind of ballad," she says. Tom agrees to write something new (but what about the other ballads in the show?). Rebecca also know her flaws. She asks that the keys of her songs be lowered, and says she's going to get a vocal coach. (Loyal Eileen tells her creatives that she's not going to be steam-rolled by Rebecca, but she's giving her a wide berth because, ultimately, the star will fill seats.)

Tom reconceives a number for Rebecca for a scene in which Marilyn interacts with students from The Actors Studio (that's the busy New York character actor Henry Stram, of Off-Broadway's The Illusion, Michael John LaChiusa's See What I Wanna See, The Persians and more, playing acting guru Lee Strasberg). The number, called "Dig Deep," has Beat, swing and jazz references (from "Smash" staff songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman), with choreographer Joshua Bergasse having his cast slink around and jump on fire poles, as Elvis and the boys did in "Jailhouse Rock."  In signature "Smash" style, the rehearsal room morphs into the fantasy of what the full stage number might look like. Rebecca makes for a smoky-voiced Marilyn, strutting around in black jacket, black turtleneck and black pants that show the ankle. In spirit, it's like the kinetic interpretative dance sequence that Audrey Hepburn (in black turtleneck and black pants that show the ankle) performs in a dim rathskeller in the movie musical "Funny Face." Watch a youtube clip of Hepburn's turn here

The "Dig Deep" number goes well. Watch the clip here. Afterward, Rebecca tells Eileen she's got lots more ideas. Uh oh.


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