Chorus kids can be a bitchy lot. You've seen A Chorus Line, right? If brusque dancer Sheila from that classic is any indication, this breed lives on salt and vinegar and cigarettes. They might push you in front of a crosstown bus for a part in a new show. But, here's the thing: If you snap your ankle at an audition, they'll give you a valium and get their doctor on the horn.
Something like this happens in Episode 4 of "Smash," written by David Marshall Grant (the actor-playwright who wrote Off-Broadway's Snakebit and appeared in Broadway's Angels in America and TV's "thirtysomething"). On the first day of rehearsal for the workshop of Marilyn the Musical, the ensemble players who are loyalists to their pal, Ivy Lynn — who's no longer a gypsy — give the old cold shoulder to chorus newcomer Karen, whose resume includes her Iowa State Fair history of being Golden Sprout Champion. In a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, this kind of credit is pure gold, but in the cutthroat world of modern Broadway, being a child of the corn is something to be bullied about — by Jessica (played by Savannah Wise, who was Evelyn Nesbit in the Broadway revival of Ragtime), Bobby (played by the excellent series newcomer Wesley Taylor, who created the role of Lucas in The Addams Family) and Sue (Jenny Laroche, a former Radio City Rockette). Insecure Ivy isn't thrilled that director-choreographer Derek has cast Karen, her previous competition, in the ensemble. Out to vanquish the girl, Ivy makes it clear in rehearsals that Karen is too loud, too big, too distracting. Karen is asked to sit out of a couple of numbers.
This leads to one of the best scenes of the series so far (thanks to writer Grant and show-runner/creator Theresa Rebeck, who oversees the writing of the series): In the rehearsal-studio hallway, the shamed Karen (who has also learned that Ivy slept with Derek) shames Jessica right back. "I am the same as you," Karen says. "You were all beginners, too. And I'm good. I could have done that — I could have slept with him. I could've...he — But I didn't. And I wouldn't. And that doesn't make me stupid or lame or untalented. She shouldn't be trying to get me fired. And you should be trying to help me."
|photo by Patrick Harbron/NBC|
This is The Sheila Moment of the episode. Instead of valium and an orthopedist, Bobby and Jessica and Sue offer themselves to Karen. The softened chorus kids are on a mission to teach Karen to blend better — with the right shoes (on a visit to LaDuca Shoes, a haven for New York City dancers), the right tights, the right street clothes, the right hairdo, the right dance class and the right sense of ensemble. This "intervention" includes a lesson in not stealing focus from the star (or the other ensemble kids). In A Chorus Line parlance, "Don't pop the head, Cassie." Jessica, Bobby and Sue improvise a routine to Adele's "Rumor Has It" and Karen absorbs it. "Nobody's bigger than anybody," Bobby says, "nobody's out of line, everybody's in." By the end of the episode, Karen will be "as one" with the company.
Some highlights of (and comments about) Episode 4:
SAM: At the first day of the workshop we meet Sam (played by Leslie Odom, Jr., of Broadway's upcoming Leap of Faith), who was in the chorus of Chicago with Ivy a decade ago. "You are Marilyn Monroe!" Sam exclaims. "Actually," Derek says, "nobody is anybody until we start rehearsing." Eyeing both Ivy and Karen, Derek reminds the company, "The road to Broadway is exceedingly long." Sam (a refreshing anomaly in the world of chorus boys in that he subscribes to Sports Illustrated and laments about the Mets — not the opera or museum of art) serves as Ivy's Jiminy Cricket, calling her out on her diva ways. (By the way, that's Ann Harada as the Marilyn stage manager Linda. Harada, whose light should never be kept under a bushel, created the role of Christmas Eve in Broadway's Avenue Q. Download "The More You Ruv Someone" from the original cast album. Now.)
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