Well now! That was a surprise, eh?
Don’t read further if you haven’t seen the latest episode of Smash!
So. Lots of drama. Smash threw us a curveball in the tiny (TINY: let’s be clear. She is TINY. And there is nothing wrong with that, but she’s no Adele, OK?) frame of Megan Hilty, who got the part of Marilyn Monroe in the show’s inside musical.
Not so fast there, spinny McSpinnersons. Can we take a second and remember that this is not a casting for Broadway but for a workshop? Ask any actor: stuff happens between the grimy forty-seat studio and the spotless 2,000-chair house.
The biggest thing that has to happen? That show gots ta SELL.
The main producer has no money, or it’s at least all tied up in escrow. She may have a few hundythou to throw at a workshop, but she does not have millions to personally fund a Broadway run. Someone has to buy this thing. Anyone want odds that whoever wants to buy it has no love for the blonde bombshell? Or, Karen has to replace her (as hinted in a preview) and the potential backer only gives money if it’s Karen in the role? That last adds a nice bit of pique to the plight of the Broadway veteran, who will probably get the understudy role. It shows how one, little, tiny trick of fate can play with your career, and that is the stuff of backstage musicals as well as, well, real life.
No hate, though: Megan Hilty brought it. I especially loved the scene work she was doing with the director (before the scene went all stupid creepy and zoomed to the bare-back tango in Willis’ house). Anyway, there was a lovely difference between her first read and her later, more internalized read. Did you hear that pitch-perfect slip into Marilyn’s soft-yet-precise speaking style? We aren’t done with Ms Karen Cartwright yet, but Megan Hilty gave us real reasons tonight to cheer for her as the role winner.
Now. How is Karen still relevant at this point? In the real world she slips into the background and isn’t ever heard from again (until she pops up on Glee, of course). Does Ivy have problems (was the throwing up a hint of preggers showing, and not showbiz nerves/disorder?) and they turn to Karen? Does she eventually get cast as – gasp – the UNDERSTUDY?
Or does she get cast as Norma Jean?
(Note on that last: I don’t think this is a trick that they are hiding from us; as of this moment I believe at least Karen thinks her brief flirt with the heady lights of fame is over.)
(Also! In a preview I just saw, Karen is clearly rehearsing for the role with the director saying, “This is going to be fast,” and she says, “I can do it.” LAST MINUTE REPLACEMENT for the workshop, you say?)
For all the Ivy love in this episode we also got some genuine moments of ugh as well: all the frippy gay men flipping out over her at the callback, leaving only the straight woman to offer the very-apparently-made-intimidated-and-awkward-newbie any comfort. I understand excitement to cheer on a friend, and it’s perfectly understandable in the case of the dancer/friend. It is unprofessional and reprehensible on the part of the composer. Keep it in your pants, Tom! At least wait until after the audition! You are at a callback, for YOUR musical, and you are right in front of the other person who has spent all week working on your material, and whom you’ve treated like crap. I’m not saying it’s not what actually happens, or not indicative of the real and cruel showbiz world, but it still made me like him less and less. (Christian Borle is excellent, but his character is truly starting to grate. It’s episode two. Get over it and at least *recognize* that the other girl is there for a reason too.)
“She’d be a great musical” doesn’t get you royalties, Ellis. It’d be nice to throw the kid a bone once it’s a success, but Vest and a Haircut needs to lower his expectations a bit.
Know who was in fine form? Baroness Huston. I can’t even mind that her lips are freakishly wide and her haircut is out of the Morticia beauty book. She is commanding and regal and throws drinks in jerks’ faces like it’s just what she does on a Saturday night.
Also? A cheer for the non-theme-music. A Broadway baby’s favorite sound (and yet another nod that the people doing this get you, hopeless theater dreamer): the clashing buildup of an orchestra tuning for the overture.
Yeah, there was some adoption stuff in there too. I tuned out. All I could hear my head saying was, “Brian d’Arcy James, do you sing now? No? OK. I wait for you to sing.” Then I heard he was a – wait for it – science teacher. And now I know. He’ll sing in one dream sequence all season. I am the sad. So, in light of that tragic disappointment, I couldn’t think about the birth mother of the abandoned infant from China. I hope you understand.
Meanwhile, Dev remained hot, and also got angry!hot. But did anyone else feel, as I did, that this little flash of over-anger was one of two things: an indication that he, unlike so many Perfect Boyfriend types on TV, is human and can falter, or, what may be more troubling, that there is a rage inside him that may be unleashed as his ambition builds and his would-be wife disappears into her own career?
And ah! The music! Not to be forgotten:
“Call Me”: Karen doing a quite literal interpretation of the minute-by-minute begging going through her head as she waits to hear about her (first) callback. It was fine. Nicely showcased Karen’s chops and let us know that this show is still about her, and not Ivy.
The new songs from the musical: “20th Century Fox” was all right, bit of a first-act book number (will never be a breakaway pop hit; sorry, couldn’t resist). However, I all-caps loved the idea of opening the show with “Let Me Be Your Star.” It doesn’t always work, a song that’s like an adrenaline shot right at the outset: it sets an expectation that must be beat by the first act closer, the second act opener, and the finale. But it also nicely sets aside the other notions of what Marilyn retreads have been: it also puts a beautifully simple turn on her, focusing on her yearn for love and fame, and more about her as a person than her as a star. And it’s a beautiful number. Nice choice.
“Thank God Even Crazy Dreams Come True”: A song by Idol winner Carrie Underwood, it’s certainly applicable to McPhee and Hilty as well as their characters. Sung in a really lovely way by Hilty.
All in all, not as strong as the first episode; I had a couple of true checking-my-phone bored moments. What did you think?